Clark Challenges Rivals to Release Records

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Wesley Clark (search) on Friday challenged his rivals for the Democratic nomination for president to join him in releasing financial and other personal records, a clear prod at Howard Dean (search).

"I challenge all Democrats in the race to follow suit," Clark told a news conference as he released military, voter registration and financial records. "Everybody ought to be open about what they've done in public office."

Clark, along with several other candidates, has criticized Dean for not opening all of his records as Vermont governor.

Clark also urged President Bush to reverse policies the retired general contended have shut out citizens from government. He charged that Bush had run "the most closed administration" since President Nixon.

Clark called on Bush to stop hiding documents through classification extension and rollbacks of the Freedom of Information Act (search) and to cooperate with investigations into the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the administration's secret energy task force.

"It's time President Bush played it straight with the American people," he said. "President Bush has shut the people out of government and told them they have no right to know what he says to special interests in the Oval Office. As president, my administration will be an open book."

Clark said he would establish an "openness doctrine" that would restrict the assertion of executive privilege, eliminate secret task forces, disclose all meetings with special interests, require lobbyists to reveal more, and use the Internet to make government transparent.

Clark made personal records available to the public at a Manchester hotel and on his campaign Internet site.

Voter registration records from Arkansas show Clark, who has been accused by Dean of being a closet Republican, was a registered Democrat in 2002. Registration records from 1996 and 2000 do not show a party affiliation.

His tax records, which were reported by The Associated Press in December and released to the news media Friday, showed his income rising from $92,673 in 1998 to $1.6 million in 2002.

Speaking fees and serving as a military analyst for CNN provided Clark more than $1 million in income in 2002. He received $25,000 to $30,000 per appearance in speaking fees. As a military analyst, commenting mostly on the conflict with Iraq, he earned between $10,000 and $38,000 a month from CNN.

Clark's income places him in the group he believes should lose tax cuts instituted by President Bush, families with incomes over $200,000 a year. Under the Clark tax program, families with incomes of $50,000 or less would pay no taxes.

Clark has been gaining ground in polls for the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, narrowing the gap with front-runner Howard Dean. The retired general said increasing criticism from Dean and other Democratic rivals, and from Republicans, reflects the tightening race.

"I'm Karl Rove's biggest nightmare," Clark asserted Thursday night at a town-hall meeting, referring to Bush's chief political strategist. Clark portrays himself as the most electable of the eight Democrats seeking to limit Bush to one term.

Earlier Thursday, at a news conference in Manchester, Clark said it was up to Congress to determine whether Bush's march to war in Iraq amounted to a criminal offense.

"I think that's a question Congress needs to ask. I think this Congress needs to investigate precisely" how the United States wound up in a war "that wasn't connected to the threat of al-Qaida," he said.

Clark defended his comments against the war after both of his Democratic rivals and top Republicans complained that the statements were inconsistent with past remarks, including testimony to Congress in 2002.

Republican National Committee (search) Chairman Ed Gillespie criticized Democratic candidates Thursday in Arkansas, Clark's home state. He singled out Clark, contending that he had changed his position on the war for political gain.

Clark said an RNC-released transcript of his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in 2002 took out of context his remarks. The RNC quoted Clark as calling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a clear threat and contending that military action could not be postponed indefinitely.

Clark released Friday full transcripts showing he urged that the Bush administration do everything possible to win United Nations support for any action against Iraq and not to go it alone.