- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

Subtly but unmistakably, President Clinton continues to undermine his successor by questioning the legitimacy of his election.

In Chicago on Tuesday night, Mr. Clinton said William M. Daley, who served as Al Gore's campaign chairman, "did a brilliant job in leading Vice President Gore to victory" Nov. 7.

"By the time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote, and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida," Mr. Clinton said.

President-elect George W. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday tried not to get into a war of words with Mr. Clinton.

There is a "tradition in this country of presidents leaving office with respect for their successors, and I'm certain that President Clinton will want to follow that," Mr. Fleischer said.

He declined to criticize Mr. Clinton.

"Well, I think that tradition extends in two directions, and I'm not going to characterize what the president said beyond that," he said. "We have respect for President Clinton, and I'm not going to characterize his statements beyond that."

Mr. Bush won Florida by 537 votes of 6 million cast after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stop hand recounts. Mr. Bush will be sworn into office Jan. 20.

Mr. Clinton "said what he believed that when all the votes are counted now by the press that it'll show that Al Gore may in fact have received more votes [in Florida]," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said yesterday.

"I think that's a relatively uncontroversial statement, in some level. At the same time, the president has said that he accepts the court's ruling and he understands the importance of the rule of law and that we are all going to accept what the Supreme Court said and move on."

Mr. Siewert would not say whether Mr. Clinton views Mr. Bush's election as invalid or illegitimate.

"Oh, I think he said that we have to accept what the court ruled and, obviously, a new president will be sworn in. He also said that, you know, he'd met with President Bush. I mean, we're working very hard to ensure that he has every opportunity to succeed in the job."

Mr. Clinton has left little doubt that he thinks the Supreme Court is all that stood in the way of a Gore presidency.

Mr. Clinton told the CBS program "60 Minutes II," in an interview broadcast Dec. 19, that the nation should accept the U.S. Supreme Court's decision and that he wished Mr. Bush well.

But he left little doubt that he disagreed with the court's ruling and suggested it was politically motivated. He also said he was not surprised that the high court took the case and stopped the count.

"No, not after eight years in Washington, I wasn't. They had the power to do it, and they did it," he said.

On Sunday, Mr. Gore joined Mr. Clinton and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at Madison Square Garden in New York City to re-create Mrs. Clinton's swearing-in to the Senate.

"In 13 days, at high noon, I'm going to give up being president," Mr. Clinton said.

The crowd booed.

"Wait a minute. Hey," Mr. Clinton said. "You can boo about the nature of the transfer, but not about me giving it up. I've had my time."

On Monday night, Mr. Clinton told Democratic National Committee staffers in Washington they should not be cynical "because of the decision of the Supreme Court."

"You know, I tell everybody as I'm sort of dwindling into irrelevancy the only way I can really get any big headlines is to say what I really think," Mr. Clinton told DNC aides.

"But I think I'll show some restraint tonight, since I'm preaching to the saved."

Mr. Fleischer said yesterday the new president will not stoke the flames.

"Again, that's a tradition that has served our nation well, and I would fully expect the president will continue to follow it."

Former President George Bush did not explicitly criticize Mr. Clinton following the 1992 election. But his aides and supporters took some potshots.

"I'm smiling happily," Mr. Bush told reporters Nov. 16, 1992, when asked about reports that he was demoralized after his defeat.

A Bush aide anonymously criticized Mr. Clinton after the president-elect held a news conference in Little Rock and backed away from previous promises of a middle-income tax cut and protection for Haitian refugees.

"We're just totally turned off by his waffling," the Bush administration official said.

Just before Mr. Clinton took office in January 1993, John Sununu, Mr. Bush's former chief of staff, called Mr. Clinton's December 1992 economic summit in Little Rock, Ark. "a therapy session."

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