WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Clinton on Tuesday backed her husband, Bill Clinton, for fervently refuting questions about his anti-terror strategy, even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice challenged the former president's claims that he aggressively pursued Usama bin Laden.
Bill Clinton appeared on "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace" on Sunday, where he said he did more than many of his conservative critics to pursue bin Laden, and left behind for the Bush administration a comprehensive plan to fight Al Qaeda.
"I think my husband did a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take these attacks. All you have to do is read the 9/11 commission (report) to know what he and his administration did to protect Americans and prevent terrorist attacks against our country," the New York Democratic senator told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"You know, and I'm certain, if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified reported entitled, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team," Sen. Clinton added.
That report, reviewed by the Sept. 11 commission, talked about Al Qaeda's determination to attack inside the United States as far back as 1997. The commission noted the assessment came at Bush's request and was dated Aug. 6, 2001.
Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joined in the attack on the administration.
"Ask Secretary Rice how much attention they paid to terrorism in the first eight months. Ask them how many meetings they had about terrorism," Albright said.
But Rice challenged the former president's claim that his administration had pursued bin Laden more forcefully than the Bush administration did before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and she questioned Clinton's bringing up the debate in the interview.
"What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice said Monday during a meeting with editors and reporters at The New York Post. The Post is owned by News Corp., the same company that owns FOX News Channel.
"I think this is not a very fruitful discussion," she said. "We've been through it. The 9/11 commission has turned over every rock and we know exactly what they said."
Bill Clinton became combative in the interview with Wallace when he was asked to defend his handling of the threat posed by bin Laden. He said he "worked hard" to have the Al Qaeda leader killed.
"That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now," Clinton said in the interview. "They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try, they did not try."
Rice disputed his assessment.
"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false — and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," she said.
She also rejected Clinton's assertion that he left behind a plan for detailing with terrorists.
"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight Al Qaeda," she told the newspaper.
On Tuesday, Bush declined to be drawn into the latest dispute.
"I've watched all this finger-pointing and naming of names, and all that stuff. Our objective is to secure the country. And we've had investigations, we had the 9/11 commission, we had the look back this, we've had the look back that," he said.
In the interview on "FOX News Sunday," which got its best ratings in nearly three years, Clinton accused Wallace of a "conservative hit job" and asked: "I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, 'Why didn't you do anything about the Cole?' I want to know how many people you asked, 'Why did you fire Dick Clarke?"'
He was referring to the USS Cole, attacked by terrorists in Yemen in 2000 during the Clinton administration. Dick Clarke is former White House anti-terrorism chief Richard A. Clarke, who "left when he did not become deputy director of homeland security," according to Rice.
Asked about whether the interview was part of a "conservative hit job," Sen. Clinton declined to answer.
• Transcript: Former President Clinton on 'FOX News Sunday'
FOX News' Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.