Karl Rove on Why Bill Clinton Resurrected Wife's Bosnia Blunder

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," April 11, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: First on FOX tonight: Oh, no, he did not. Yes, he did. Why would Bill Clinton bring up his wife's Bosnia flap again after it appeared to have finally died down? No one asked him about it but at a campaign stop in Indiana, he said this:


BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I think she was the first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to go into a combat zone. You would have thought, you know, that she'd robbed a bank the way they carried on about this. And some of them when they are 60 they will forget something when they're tired at 11:00 o'clock at night, too.


HEMMER: Well, remember when sniper-gate went down and how it affected Hillary Clinton's campaign? What was he thinking?

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Karl Rove, the architect, a FOX News contributor and President Bush's former chief strategist.

Karl, welcome. You're down there in Texas today. Can you make sense of this? Why would he bring this up?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think he forgot how bad it was and made another mistake. I mean, this was unbelievable that he would bring this back up after she has been pummel, rightly, in the press for having misstated her involvement in Bosnia. You know, she also made a mistake. One of the things that we found out during this episode was that both Mrs. Johnson and, I believe, Mrs. Nixon also went into combat zones while they were first ladies.

HEMMER: Yes. Karl, while you're talking down there, Bill Clinton was asked about this earlier today and it came up yet again. Listen to how he explained it while (ph) — as his wife is now asked him to be quiet on it. Listen.

OK. We don't have that either. OK. Hey, Karl. He came out on basis (ph) that she called me up and said don't talk about it, it's my responsibility, it's my mistake, I'll explain it away.

But here's the deal on this — is that all the news editors across the country are now reaching back for that story off the shelf when before it would just have stayed there.

ROVE: Yes. Now, smart move on her part to tell him to shut up but the damage was done. You know, we've also had another, I suspect, unintentional self-inflicted wound that was revealed today when Senator Obama's comments at a fundraiser in the Tony, granola-eating (ph) suburbs of San Francisco, Marin County, came out about what people in rural America really think. I don't know if you heard what his comments were there, but it was pretty dramatic.

HEMMER: I sure am, Karl. Listen, I'll cut you off on that, because it's breaking on the Internet now. The Drudge Report link to the Huffington Post and here's what I want to talk about here in a moment here.

We have not confirmed this story, but a reporter in the room (ph) in San Francisco said the following: that Obama said, "It's not surprising they get bitter in Pennsylvania because they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain away their frustrations."

Explain how that gets you votes in Pennsylvania, Karl.

ROVE: Well, it sure doesn't. I mean, if you like - if you believe in the Second Amendment and like to go hunting, then you like your gun. If you're a person of faith, then you like your religion. And if you're concerned about the security of our borders, then maybe you are concerned about people coming into the country that shouldn't be coming.

So, I suspect this — we will look back and see that this is the moment of whatever chance he had of carrying Pennsylvania was doomed because the state is full of small towns. And a lot of Democrats who like their guns, believe deeply in their faith, and are concerned about the security of our borders.

HEMMER: I want to go back to the Clinton stuff because we got to queued up now. Bill Clinton was asked about it today. Here's his answer, Karl.


B. CLINTON: Hillary called me and said, "Look, I misstated it, you said I misstated it, but you got to let me handle that because you don't remember it either." So, I'm going to let her answer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So, you won't be bringing it up on the trail again?



HEMMER: Well, there is a contrary view on this, Karl, and I don't know if this stir (ph) is valid or not but maybe he's got the two days off, he comes back on the trail and says, I'm going to be a husband sticking up for my wife. I'm going to draw up more sympathy for women for my wife. So, I'm going to go ahead and take this approach. Does that serve any logic or is damage done?

ROVE: No. But look, this is — we live in a culture of the visual and it was incredibly powerful to have the footage of her saying I landed under sniper fire and then to have the footage of her actually landing being greeted by the small girl with flowers. I mean, these were enormously powerful contrasting images and did real damage to her credibility.

So, why Bill Clinton would rather (ph) bring the whole episode back up again even in an, you know, half-hearted defense of her is beyond me. She was right to call him up. I suspect it was a lot more heated and a lot more pointed conversation than he related. But if she listens to advice, it will be good for her.

HEMMER: Well, I don't know if she's been asked about it yet today but her campaign put out a statement that says the following, on the screen now, "Senator Clinton appreciates her husband standing up for her but this was her mistake and she takes the responsibility for it."

Here's the rub though. She will be asked about this again and soon if not already, Karl.

ROVE: Well, look, here's the rub. Today, I suspected they wanted to have another message other than rehashing Bosnia and her misstatement. And Bill Clinton, by laying this out there, basically ruin the day for her.

Now, remember, there aren't a lot of days left between now and the Pennsylvania primary. So, having an entire day taken up with this issue, which has already been batted about and has hurt her, is really, really bad for the Clinton camp.

HEMMER: All right. Let's shift our focus now to John McCain. Howard Dean and the DNC is circulating a rather extensive study that they have done in 17 different swing states across the country and they conclude that the age of John McCain is hurting him with some of these moderate voters. What is your take on that as they take on McCain?

ROVE: You know, look, I think this is really reprehensible on Dean's part. First of all, I don't accept the argument because if Senator McCain were having a problem with independents because of his age, he would not be tied or slightly ahead of or slightly behind either Clinton or Obama in all of these national polls. In fact, right now, he should be way, way behind both Obama and Clinton and he's not. In fact, he's ahead of them in most of the national polls.

And, I think, this is really - I mean, the Democrats have done this before. We saw this drama being played out and their story being spun out on the same way in 1979 and 1980 when Ronald Reagan was on the ballot. And I think, it's going to probably be as unhelpful to Democratic cause again this year.

HEMMER: Well, Iraq was the second issue that they found with McCain. So, clearly, you can see the strategy starting to develop on a national level. I hope you get that bug (ph) out here and have a good time in Texas, OK?

ROVE: Boy, yes. Thank you.

HEMMER: Cool. Karl Rove, good to have you on this evening.

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