Published February 22, 2007
WASHINGTON – The war of words between leading 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spread Wednesday night, after the campaigns had earlier exchanged heated words when Clinton suggested Obama return funds to Hollywood bigwig David Geffen, who insulted her in a newspaper article.
"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom," Obama campaign communications director Robert Gibbs said in a statement that was e-mailed to the news media.
Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who announced that he is forming an exploratory committee, weighed in with his opinion.
"I believe it's best if Sen. Obama apologize for the comment made by David Geffen about the Clinton administration," Richardson said speaking to reporters in Denver.
Only 1 percent of Democratic voters surveyed in a recent Washington Post poll said they would support Richardson in a primary. Clinton led 41 percent and Obama came in second place with 17 percent. Nevertheless, Richardson wasn't shy about jumping into the fray.
"This is the kind of statement by a supporter of Sen. Obama that should be disavowed," he said. "A mistake was made. Apologize when you do something dumb."
Geffen, a former "Friend of Bill," co-hosted a star-studded, $1.3 million fundraiser for Obama on Tuesday night in Beverly Hills with Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Among the 300 contributors who forked over $2,300 each were George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Morgan Freeman. Also in attendance were Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and director Ron Howard.
Geffen became a former FOB in 2001 after Bill Clinton refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, a Chippewa Indian convicted of killing two FBI agents in a 1977 shootout on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Geffen, who believes Peltier was framed and falsely convicted, suggested he was more deserving of a pardon than fugitive financier Marc Rich, whom Clinton excused just before leaving office.
Clinton acknowledged in 2001 that he and Geffen were no longer buddies, saying Geffen would barely take his phone calls. Geffen's consultant on the Peltier matter was Andy Spahn, who had an active role in Tuesday night's Obama rally.
Geffen is apparently still holding a grudge against the Clintons. In remarks to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that appeared in Wednesday's edition, the music producer suggested that the Clintons have had their day and it's time for new blood in the White House.
"Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don't think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together," he was quoted as saying.
"Obama is inspirational, and he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family," Geffen added.
Geffen was particularly bitter about Sen. Clinton's position on Iraq. "It's not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake' on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can't.... She's so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms."
While Clinton has her own Hollywood fundraiser next month — and even co-host Spielberg has not made an endorsement for Obama or anyone else yet — Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson issued his own statement Wednesday calling on Obama to disavow his top money man.
"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband. If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money," Wolfson said.
"While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser," Wolfson added.
Later in the day, Geffen sent a retort to the Clinton camp.
"Despite reports to the contrary, I am not the campaign finance chair and have no formal role in the Obama campaign, nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support for his candidacy," he said. "My comments, which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons. Thank You."
Obama, who is not about to give up such a prolific money earner, turned the criticism around on Clinton and rebuked her for accepting the support of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford.
Ford, an African-American, earlier this month said he was supporting Clinton because America would never elect a black president and Obama would only bring down the party in state and local races in 2008.
"We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything. I'm a gambling man. I love Obama, but I'm not going to kill myself," Ford said.
Obama said on Wednesday: "It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because 'he's black.'"
FOX News' Major Garrett and David Rhodes contributed to this report.