Clark Responds to 'Character' Criticism
By SARA KUGLER, AP
NEW YORK (Nov. 20) - Late night talk show host David Letterman touched a nerve Thursday when he asked Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark about criticism from a former military colleague.
Clark, left, speaks with David Letterman (AP/CBS)
Letterman was referring to retired Gen. Hugh Shelton's assertion in September that Clark was relieved as NATO's supreme commander in 1999 because of "integrity and character issues." Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not elaborate.
"It's a smear, that's all it is," Clark told Letterman in an interview taped for broadcast on CBS Thursday night. "And it doesn't have anything to do with the military. It's the kind of stuff of politics."
Clark has acknowledged he had conflicts with former Defense Secretary William Cohen and other top Pentagon officials. He attributes that in his memoir to clashing with the military's "innate conservatism" while trying to accomplish his assigned missions, particularly in Bosnia and during the 1999 Kosovo campaign.
Earlier Thursday, at an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, Clark was also asked about the circumstances surrounding his departure from NATO. The question clearly rattled him, causing him to raise his voice and hint that Shelton should retract the remark.
Letterman wanted to know how Clark thought it would affect his campaign, asking, "Can you talk your way out from under this, can you ever satisfactorily explain this, or do you just write it off as a smear and we will accept that?"
Clark said he suspected Shelton's remark would remain an issue because integrity and character are important to voters.
But, he said, "it's a charge that can't be treated as anything more than a smear because there's no way to refute it - it's just out there."
11/20/03 21:24 EST
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