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Clinton calls anti-war criticism a ploy

Bill Clinton on Friday rejected President Bush's criticism of his anti-war efforts two decades ago as a political ploy hatched by "extreme right wingers." Bush declared, "I'm not going to back away from it one single bit."

Bush returned to the emotionally charged issue, shrugging off Democratic contentions that he is a desperate candidate resorting to smears in hopes of closing the gap in the polls just 3{ weeks before the election.

He decried "the liberal elite .


. trying to call me Joe McCarthy," referring to the senator who became notorious in the 1950s for unsupported charges.

"I said I didn't think it was right to be demonstrating against your country in a foreign land when soldiers are being held captive and soldiers are dying in Vietnam. And I feel strongly about it," Bush said.

"I'm standing with American principle," Bush declared in Cincinnati, winning applause from the national Fraternal Order of Police, which had just given him its endorsement.

Clinton, in Kansas City, Mo., preparing for Sunday night's debate, pointed to published reports that said Bush's latest line of attack was designed at an Oval Office meeting.

The Democrat rejected Bush's contention that he was expressing what was "in my heart" when he made a campaign issue of the Democrat's anti-Vietnam War activities and 1969 trip to Moscow.

"It is now obvious. .


. Far from speaking from his heart, he was speaking from a prescribed political strategy cooked up in the White House by Robert Dornan and other extreme right-wingers," Clinton said, referring to a conservative California congressman.

"He turned the Republican convention over to the far right for two days; now he's apparently going to turn his campaign over to that," Clinton said. "It's very sad."

In a television interview earlier Friday, Bush again expressed concern about Clinton's role in anti-war protests while studying at Oxford University in England.

"I just don't think it's right to demonstrate on foreign soil or mobilize demonstrations, I believe that's the word he used, against your country's policies from foreign soil," Bush said, appearing on ABC's Good Morning America.

"I think it's a question of judgment and character, not a question of patriotism," Bush said.

Clinton, in turn, said, "I was against the policy of the government, not against my country."

Leading in the polls, Clinton brushed off the impact of the Republican assault, calling it a last-ditch bid to get the election off the economy.

"The issue for most Americans is what are we going to do the day after the election," Clinton said. "And it's not surprising that Mr. Bush doesn't want to talk about that because of his record and because he hasn't had any proposals until the eleventh hour."

In his ABC interview, Bush said he was satisfied with Clinton's explanation of student travels to Moscow two decades ago if his Democratic rival had been truthful.

White House spokeswoman Laura Melillo said Bush, along with White House chief of staff James A. Baker III and Dornan, discussed raising the Moscow issue against Clinton during a White House meeting.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the attack on Clinton sprang from an Oval Office meeting Tuesday among Bush, Baker, Dornan and three other Republican congressmen.

The newspaper said that Dornan urged Bush to "take the gloves off" and that Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham said Bush "told us not to worry, that he would use the issue."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, quoted an unidentified presidential aide as saying that the president's main concern was the anti-war demonstrations rather than the Moscow trip and that he probably would not have brought up the trip if he had not been asked about it in a television interview.

Clinton said he took part in anti-war demonstrations in London at the height of the Vietnam War and that he visited Moscow for about a week as part of a wider tour of Europe.

Clinton and his aides prepped for Sunday's debate in St. Louis at a Kansas City hotel, going over potential questions and holding mock debates _ complete with stand-ins for Bush and Ross Perot.