Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet column: Obama, Clinton clash over Novak item. The dish on dirt.


LAS VEGAS -- Triggered by an item in Bob Novak's Sunday column suggesting that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has dirt on Sen. Barack Obama but won't use it, Obama's campaign Saturday accused Clinton's team of using "Swift boat" tactics against him.

Clinton's camp swung back, denying they were spreading rumors about Obama or that they planted information with Novak, wondering why Obama would want to fall into a "Republican trap" to "pit Democrats against Democrats."

Starting an unusual series of heated exchanges between the two front-running presidential campaigns was a three paragraph item in Novak's Sunday Chicago Sun-Times column that says "agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed."

Obama sent out an e-mail calling on the Clinton campaign to renounce the item, which he said was "heavy on innuendo and insinuation," adding, "The cause of change in this country will not be deterred or sidetracked by the old 'Swift boat' politics.

The 2004 White House campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was savaged by TV ads undermining his military career, funded by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

A reason the Obama campaign went on the offensive -- or that any campaign might -- could be to protect itself from material that could surface later.

Clinton spokesman Jay Carson, in Las Vegas where Clinton was stumping, said "a Democratic candidate should be smart enough not to fall into a trap that he has set to pit Democrats against Democrats . . . if you don't know how to avoid that in a primary, you are going to be in a world of hurt in a general election."

Carson said they had no idea what Novak, whom he called a "Republican-leaning columnist" was referring to.

"Let's think about this rationally for a second. Do you really think Bob Novak will be the repository of information from the Clinton campaign?" Carson said.

Novak, asked to react, said neither he nor his source, who he said was a Democrat, have any more information. Novak said his source passed along what he was told "by people inside the Clinton campaign. It was not specified what it was, and it was said to a Democratic source. Clinton would not reveal it because she is such a good person."

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, in a second communique from the campaign, demanded that the Clinton team say if "they have 'scandalous' information" they are not releasing. "Yes or no?"

"No and no," Carson said.

Plouffe replied that Obama's team will take the Clinton campaign "at their word ... But what we don't accept is their assertion that this is somehow falling for Republican tricks."

Prodding along negative stories is commonplace in hotly contested races. Obama's presidential campaign "scored a significant hit" against Clinton "by helping to place" a story about tainted Democratic donor Norman Hsu, according to an article about Obama in the December issue of the Atlantic.

The story, titled "Teacher and Apprentice" by associate editor Marc Ambinder, describes how Obama campaign staffers were "frustrated" because the press was not covering Clinton "in the way they expected it would."


Is it ethical for a journalist to report the kind of story that Novak did when the source is not willing to go on the record?

A three dimensional gamesmanship which can only be explained by who benefits. Senator Clinton's campaign is dripping towards the dead zone of a former front runner. It is not carrying the initiative anymore and responding to her poor campaign performances from what was once characterized as a 'flawless inevitable coronation'. Middle School passive aggressive tactics...decry being the victim while using a surrogate to sling real mud---Possibly.

The other benefactor is that the GOP is on record wanting to face Clinton and not Obama or Edwards so the other benefactor is of course the GOP, whom Novak is long known to be a happy water carrier. Ironically except for Bill Clinton the GOP has essentially chosen whom they wanted to face in the general election going back to JFK and LBJ. Dirty tricks is part of their tool box. Probably more.

The only other explanation could be a genuine cold war tactic of preemption where Obama knowing that they might have some little packaged item preempts the process by using the source from Clinton campaign and forcing them to shelve the package by exposing them outside the timing. Probably not.

Again Clinton is also attempting to show the passive aggressive attack of saying Obama is naive falling for an obvious GOP dirty trick. Problem with it all is now it has put the national press on the hunt for what could be the scandal and who is behind it.

This makes simultaneous early game tricks going on...push pull on the GOP and this probable disinformation game on the Democratic side. Hmmm....Now in the long run is this for Clinton's camp.

They are not running a good campaign and the laugh on the Perot question could have more stickiness than her return to combat the boys. This game if it is not a kill shot, could come back to show exactly why Obama [and Edwards and Kucinich] are correct about the corrupted DC political scene. It is almost like the movies with Jimmie Stewart as 'Mr. Smith' or Judy Holiday in 'Born Yesterday'. In the end I think the drip...drip...drip with each week eroding the inevitable.

After reading your November 13, 2007 article titled "Battle for Black Voters" I was quite concerned about Michelle Obama's words
"black America will wake up and get it". If the article had been
titled "Battle for Voters" I would not have thought much about it but she seemed to be indicating thruout the article that all Black voters should vote for Obama strictly because he is black. I thought we were to be voting for the best and not along racial lines. She seems to be preaching racial upheaval and takeover, Another statement she made was that Obama will get overwhelming black support. I have to say any thought I might of had to vote for Barack Obama has been completely eliminated. In fact I'm a little afraid of might happen if he did get in after her comments. That article lost a vote. I hate it when the "Black card" is played.

Now Obama is slinging mud concerning an article Novak wrote. Novak's article doesn't seem to have any substance. Obama jumped the gun with criticism of Clinton without knowing if there was even an issue. He certainly is overreacting. Not a good trait for a President. Jackie

"well, look", we really don't know, yet. what happened between indonesia, (that college in california) and columbia. all we've heard is harvard and "bringing people together". who? where? how?
harvard was a very, very small portion of the junior senator's life experiences.
are we witnessing a promethean experience? if so, get 'er done, yes?

If Obama's skin was any thinner we could see right through him. Novak threw a sucker punch and the rock star stuck his chin out. Wait until thr heat really rises, Obama will melt down.

It feels like something subtle happened here. How's this for suspicious minds: if I was Sen. Clinton and wanted to be preemptive about finding who in my inner circle might be a leaker, I might make up something irresistible yet unspecific, like that I had dirt on an opponent, and give it to one, and only one, inner circle member. I'd do this using different rumors to each member, and wait to see which, if any, leaks out to someone like Novak. If there's anything we've learned about politics over the last 15 years, it's that loyalty is prized above all else. There may be some testing going on now or in the future.

Anyone believing Bob Novak is crazy. After this SOB outed Valerie Plame in his paper and then made his own deal with Fitzgerald, how can anyone avoid knowing he is a GOP operative and has no ethics whatsoever.

No one from Clinton camp would go near this toxic man who has done much to hurt America. It's more than stupid to believe him, but what I see is that it evokes Clinton hatred to such a degree that it suspends common sense.

This country is so torn apart and so full of anger and fear that no one seems capable of simple clear thinking. When Bob Novak says ANYTHING I know that he is up to no good and that his word means nothing.

Suddenly I find that people are buying his latest poison and believing him? Good God.

Why doesn't the Sun-Times tell Novak to spill the beans? There are a lot of people who think Novak is a washed-up has-been with no real clout. But they would do well to remember that it was Novak who had inside contacts in the Bushie administration to out Valerie Plame with the same kind of "no-tell motel" tactics. I wouldn't put it past him to have direct access to someone deep inside the Clinton camp.

Also note that (Hillary) Clinton's camp played coy with their role in this. Obama is not being naive at all. If someone (Novak) is spreading gossip about you and the originating source (Clinton) is named, you go to the source and say "Put Up or Shut Up." Don't waste time with the messenger.

I think the subtext here is that Clinton is losing IOWA by a bigger margin than the public polls show. And losing Iowa is a ripple effect she can't afford.

If Hillary Rodham -- as she wanted to be known when her husband was Governor of Arkansas and when he was first running for President -- was the candidate, she wouldn't be "front-runner." She'd be "Who?" It is high time the American people recognize this woman is running not on any accomplishments of her own, but on her husband's record. First Lady is not an elected office, it holds no power, brief or portfolio. In 1992 and 1996, the Democratic nominees for President and Vice-President were William Jefferson Clinton and Albert W. Gore, Jr. Hillary's name was nowhere on the ballot.

I don't know about you, but I hated it when other kids tried to take credit for my homework. And that's exactly what Mrs. Bill Clinton is trying to do now.

I'd rather have "Change I Can Believe In." I'd rather have Barack Obama in '08!

When President Carter's own Party refused to support him during his presidency, I became an Independent. It seemed to me, then, that the Democratic Party was given to 'eating its young' and,in general, the Republicans were too mean-spirited.
Now, among other things, the tenor of most of the responses to this post has convinced me to remain independent and vote in the General Elections, but only for a candidate with the following 'presidential' characteristics: acuity, good judgment, not having been corrupted and demonstrably be incorruptible, directness, sincerity, honesty, having a propensity to use leverage wisely, a willingness to talk to anyone for the benefit of the United States and, where within presidential authority to do, to address the best interests of the majority and the underserved minorities of the citizenry.

Jackie, you're a sad little bigot. "Racial upheaval", huh? That phrase says a lot about what's really going on in your head. Thank goodness people who think like you are dying out. This is a new era and Obama is going to take us there, whether you like it or not.

Hillary is at about 50% in the National polls. She is doing fine and has every reason not to rock the boat. Just keep working, meeting and talking to as many voters as she can.
The idea that Clinton staff contacted a Republican flack with this story, with some naive assumption that this contact would be kept confidential, is absurd. Reaching this conclusion using reason is not difficult. Obama acted emotionally and irrationally. A president should have the reasoning ability to figure out what an adversary is thinking, how he will react to our actions and so on. This is a MAJOR mistake.

Hillary Clinton does not represent change. Hillary is the insider/establishment candidate from the right wing of the Democratic Party, which chose Bill Clinton. Hillary is being funded by many of the same Bush Eagles and her message and questions are being controlled in very much the same way. The Clintons represent the right wing of the Democratic Party, the part of the party wants to sleep with many of the same bedfellows that the Republicans speak to. Clinton money is being raised primarily from the upper ecelons of society who want a candidate that will not undermine the existing social order but rather play ball with them. The Clinton legacy is not one of speaking truth to power. It is one of getting incredibly cozy with power. As Hillary states, lobbyists have a right to have a voice in the system. The mainstream media is selling the American public on how much the right fears her. Hogwash. If they do not get their Republican, they will get Hillary and much of their same agenda will get through.

I received this Email from a reporter from a major news magazine.
" i'm completely baffled by what the obama campaign did yesterday, but i don't think the problem is media manipulation--at least not in this case. that novak item is something reporters would have pretty much ignored (it wasn't in his syndicated column that appears in the wash post, but rather, in this weekend thing he does.) also, political reporters would have thought: what does bob novak know about what goes on inside democratic campaigns? and they would have dismissed it. my own theory, by the way, is not that novak just completely made this up. i've never known him to do that. i think he probably heard some loose talk in the fundraising circles--where everybody is a gossip and tries to pretend they know more than they do--and went with it. that would explain the use of "agents," rather than "operatives" or "strategists" or these other words that reporters usually use when they are talking about genuine insiders."

-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: Sun 11/18/2007 3:17 AM

Why would anybody believe anything this man would have to say, after this guy outed Valerie Plame he has no credibility.


By Hermie Rotea

Senator Barack Hussein Obama has accused Senator Hillary Clinton of using “Swift Boat” politics against him. He linked her to the same dirty tactics that President Bush used against Senator John Kerry that resulted in Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 prresidential election.

In that last campaign, a group of pro-Bush Vietnam veterans libeled and slandered Kerry, a decorated Vietnam war hero, as a coward and fake hero, in print and broadcast prropaganda campaign that became known as the Swift Boat case.

One of Bush’s big bankrollers financed that dirty political job against Senator Kerry. It robbed the Democratic candidate of victory.

In charging Clinton of employing the same dirty trick against him, Obama sharply reacted to a recent column of Bob Novak, a Republican attack dog masquerading as a journalist, that claimed Cllinton has a dossier on Obama that she allegedly would unleash against him. She has denied his charge.

Obama cleverly linked Clinton to the same kind of Bush’s successful modus operandi that the president used against his defeated election opponents — Kerry in 2004 and former Vice President Al Gore in 2000. It is consistent with his previous charge that she is like Bush and Cheney.

At the same time, Obama hopes that his accusation against her would preempt any attempt to expose such dossier against him, which betrayed his fear that disclosure would damage him. It was a preventive tactic.

By accusing Clinton of using Swift Boat politics against him is in itself a dirty political attack. In the first place, why give credence to Novak’s column? As a Bush supporter, Novak is notorious for using his column to create intrigue and divide the president’s political opponents. He is the same columnist who leaked Valerie Plume’s name as a secret CIA agent.

Shame on you, Senator Barack Hussein Obama, for using dirty poltical trick yourself!

To predict one's future we need only to look at one's past or even present behavior. Obama continuously presents himself as an agent of change who rejects the old politics and the old system.
Let's take a look at his home state of Illinois where he advocates absolutely no change and is up to his neck in the old political club of Daley, Stroger, Governor Blago, and worse. Illinois, Cook County and Chicago are among the most politically corrupt political and governmental systems in the country and Obama is a gold card mamber in good standing who has never criticized the corruption. The only change that he wants is to be the head guy. He wouldn't even know how to change the system.

Jacqueline Michaels, you jumped to the wrong conclusion because you didn't know the context. Michelle was addressing the issue of black American voters who said they believed Barack was the best candidate, but they weren't going to vote for him because they thought 'America' wouldn't vote for a black president, his life would be in danger, and/or various other points of fear. Her point was the same as yours: don't be distracted by "what-ifs", but vote for the best candidate. She wasn't playing the race card, but the anti-race card.

As for Novak and the non-existent scandal story, the problem (imo) was that the Clinton people didn't immediately step forward and deny the story. After all, it was as much a slur on the Clinton campaign as the Obama campaign. This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, and eventually you have to wonder why the Clinton people are letting a story like that replicate through the blogosphere. There's the only ones in a position to deny it (which they eventually did), but timing is everything. Shutting the stable door after the horse ia in the next county isn't what bright, experienced people do, is it?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 18, 2007 11:14 AM.

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