- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

If ever there were a time for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to skip the big rendezvous with destiny, it was last Thursday. But no. There she was, picking up a frothing static of media reports suggesting that President Bush had prior, perhaps actionable, knowledge of September 11. Rather than demand more intelligence, or just sit out the next news cycle, Mrs. Clinton decided to launch a strike from the Senate floor at George W. Bush's approval ratings.

Oops, she missed. While the "What did the president know and when did he know it" crowd, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, has since retreated into sanctimonious protestations of goodwill and nonpartisan intent, Mrs. Clinton was not as deft. The very public point-gal for Democratic efforts to finesse serious questions about intelligence failures into political mileage over some Watergate-style cover-up has piped down.

"I am only seeking answers," she said before she clammed up, parrying the thrust of Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's pointed expression of displeasure at her call for multiple investigations into the pre-September 11 White House. "Nobody is more entitled to answers to some of these questions that the people of New York," she said. "We have a responsibility to ask."

Sure we do. But was Mrs. Clinton only "seeking answers"? If so, she could have been more imaginative in her questioning, which aimed exclusively at President Bush not at the intelligence agencies that bottled up urgent information, the rules that outlawed vital surveillance of suspected terrorists or the congressional committees that saw some of the same intelligence as the White House. Mrs. Clinton took her grand Senate stand, armed with last Thursday's New York Post (headline: "Bush Knew") to turn up the heat on an expedient notion of malfeasance. "The President knew what?" she asked. "My constituents would like to know the answers to these questions. Not to blame the president or any American. But just to know."

Right. While eager to express the ennobling grief of New York, Mrs. Clinton very obviously kept her sights on the president, and the Democratically-delicious implication that he was actually hiding something. All in all, not a pretty sight.

Meanwhile, what gives with Mrs. Clinton's decision to reminisce about the Clinton White House? "I know some things about the unique challenges faced by the person who assumes the mantle of commander in chief…" she said. What it did was remind us about the administration that for eight years failed to respond to terrorist acts of war against the United States, from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 to the assault on the USS Cole in 2000.

Fear not. Mrs. Clinton announced last weekend in a little-reported speech that national security is now America's new, No. 1 national priority. Which just goes to show they don't call her the smartest woman on pumps for nothing.

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