MIAMI – Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson blamed Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday for the publicity surrounding his remark suggesting Cuban immigrants are bringing suitcase bombs to the United States.
When asked by Florida's WTVJ about the perception in the Cuban-American community about his comments, Thompson replied, "I think that was a Hillary Clinton news release that she put out or a statement that she made trying to capitalize on something when she knew better."
During a trip to South Carolina in June, Thompson was talking about illegal immigration from Cuba and elsewhere and said, "I don't imagine they're coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We're living in the era of the suitcase bomb."
A day later, he posted an explanation on his Web site, saying he was referring to Cuban spies, not immigrants. Nevertheless, Democrats, including Clinton, assailed him for not understanding Cuban-Americans.
The Clinton campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, Thompson said, "Castro is a state sponsor of terrorism. Our own State Department has said that. Any state sponsor of terrorism should not be allowed to send people across the Mexican border into our country illegally. It's just that simple."
Earlier, Radio Mambi programming director Armando Perez-Roura told Thompson that candidates come to Miami's Little Havana, drink Cuban coffee at the Versailles restaurant and declare their support for a free Cuba. Yet little has changed in Cuba under President Fidel Castro. He asked how Thompson can show he'll do more than just provide rhetoric.
Thompson replied that he was a friend of Cuban-Americans during his eight years as a Tennessee senator and visited the region.
"I understand the price that you have paid. I know your leaders. One of the things that I would do is stay in close contact with your leaders and especially those in Florida," Thompson said. "The first thing that any president would have to do is recognize the reality. And in this case it's the reality of the fact that Castro is a dictator and he suppresses his own people."
But he offered no specifics on how he would change Cuban policy. Then he left the studio, went to Versailles, posed with a cup of Cuban coffee for television cameras and promised during a 20-minute speech to maintain the Cuban embargo.
The former "Law & Order" actor also said he would increase radio and television broadcasts to the communist island and try to educate the rest of the world about Castro.
Thompson also reaffirmed his pro-gun rights stance when asked about a man who used an AK-47 assault rifle to shoot four Miami-Dade County police officers Thursday, killing one. He said an assault weapon ban isn't the answer.
"We'll never be able to keep people like that from getting their hands on weapons and it does not result in a good thing to disarm law abiding Americans," Thompson said.
At a later stop, Thompson addressed more than 500 people in Cape Coral, a southwest Florida city on the Gulf of Mexico. He talked about the need for energy independence, and after the speech said he would consider oil drilling in the eastern Gulf as long as it was environmental safe and was respectful of people in the region.
"We've got to use all the resources that are available to us," he said.