Clinton on the Defense About Moscow Trip

The Southeast Missourian
 9 October 1992
 Ron Fournier
 Associated Press

Bill Clinton said Thursday that President Bush had “sunk to a new low” in making a campaign issue of his college trip to Moscow and overseas war protests of two decades ago.  Bush kept up his attack, saying he could not understand how someone could demonstrate abroad “when our kids are dying halfway around the world.”

“I just think he’s desperate,” Clinton said before leaving Little Rock, Ark., for Missouri to prepare for Sunday’s leadoff presidential debate.  “I felt real sad for Mr. Bush yesterday.  Here we are on our way to debate the great issues facing this country and its future and we’ve descended to that level.”

Bush said Wednesday night on CNN that Clinton should “level with the American people on the draft, on whether he went to Moscow, how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil.”

Returning to the subject on Thursday night, Bush said, “I simply for the life of me cannot understand how someone can go to London, another country, and mobilize demonstrations against the United States of America when our kids are dying halfway around the world.

“The issue here isn’t patriotism,” Bush insisted in a speech in Houston, televised nationwide by satellite to Republican fund-raisers around the country.  “You can demonstrate all you want here at home.  … But I can’t understand someone mobilizing demonstrations in a foreign country when poor kids drafted out of the ghettoes are dying in a faraway land.  You can call me old fashioned but that just does not make sense to me.”

In Greensburg, Pa., Clinton’s running mate, Al Gore, punned away the president’s suggestion that there was something untoward about Clinton’s student trip to Moscow.  Bush, he said, had resorted to an “October surmise.”

But Clinton and his aides were once again put to explaining his involvement in actions that marked his generation.  The Arkansas governor has repeatedly denied allegations that he pulled strings to avoid the Vietnam draft, and his campaign had appeared to ride out that controversy when Bush raised the ante.

The Democratic candidate has said he did protest the Vietnam war and did visit Moscow on a college vacation, but he has bristled at Bush’s attempts to suggest there was something wrong – even unpatriotic – in his actions.

Clinton, then 23, was studying in England when he took a 40-day trip by himself through the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in late 1969 and early 1970, according to his campaign.

He took a train from Helsinki to Moscow, arriving on New Year’s Eve and staying for about a week, the campaign said.

Clinton said Thursday he “mostly was just a tourist” in Moscow.  He said he visited a friend of a friend at a Moscow university and talked to American tourists.

He said he did not talk to government officials – or to KGB agents as far as he knew.  The reference to Soviet security forces was in answer to Republican Rep.  Robert Dornan of California, who has wondered aloud whether Clinton’s visit was “handled” by the KGB.  Dornan had been trying for more than a week to make the Moscow trip a campaign issue when Bush did just that on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“Most of the people I met over there were very anti-government, anti-communist folks,” Clinton said.

His last stop was Czechoslovakia, where Clinton said he visited the parents of an Oxford University classmate.  He said the family was opposed to communism, and “that was the first rumoring I had … that some day communism would collapse in eastern Europe.”

Two fellow Rhodes scholars said the scholars were expected to travel, and many did visit the Soviet Union.

Clinton said he and other Americans demonstrated against the Vietnam War at the American Embassy in London and helped organize a “teach-in” at the University of London.

“I was opposed to the war and was an outspoken opponent of the war.  Everybody knows that,” Clinton said.

The Rev. Richard McSorley, a Jesuit priest whom Clinton says he spent a day with on the European trip, mentioned Clinton’s anti-war activities in his 1978 book “Peace Eyes,” and said Thursday that Clinton did not do anything un-American.

“Only if you have crazy people around who think it is unpatriotic to pray for the lives of American soldiers in Vietnam or who think that the only way of expressing patriotism is to kill people,” McSorley said.

Clinton said he did not draw a distinction between protests on American soil and protests in foreign countries.

“There were a lot of Americans there,” Clinton said.

In Washington, meanwhile, Democrats rushed to Clinton’s support.  Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey said Bush’s tactic “is called McCarthyism.”

And Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Vietnam veteran who came home to become an anti-war activist, said, “It is a sad day when the president of the United States is willing to sully another man’s reputation and challenge his patriotism merely to get elected.  It leaves us wondering whether indeed the only promise this president is willing to keep is his promise to do anything to get re-elected.”

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