The Blog

Clark Never Called Karl

Wesley Clark says he would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his phone calls. White House phone logs suggest otherwise.

1:45 PM, Sep 22, 2003 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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WHEN WILL Wesley Clark stop telling tall tales? In the current issue of Newsweek, Howard Fineman reports Clark told Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and University of Denver president Mark Holtzman that "I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls."

Unfortunately for Clark, the White House has logged every incoming phone call since the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001. At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove. The general hadn't. What's more, Rove says he doesn't remember ever talking to Clark, either.

This isn't the general's first whopper. Last June, the latest Democratic candidate for president implied that he "got a call" on 9/11 from "people around the White House" asking the general to publicly link Saddam Hussein to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Last August, Clark told a Phoenix radio station that "The White House actually back in February apparently tried to get me knocked off CNN and they wanted to do this because they were afraid that I would raise issues with their conduct of the war."

Like his other two statements, Clark's latest tale bears little resemblance to reality. While it turns out Clark did receive a call "on either Sept. 12 or Sept. 13," the call wasn't from the White House. It was from Israeli-Canadian Middle East expert Thomas Hecht, who told the Toronto Star that he called to invite Clark to give a speech in Canada. As for Clark's accusation that the White House tried to have him fired from CNN--well, the general admits he has no proof. "I've only heard rumors about it," he said.

Skeptics of Clark's candidacy argue that the general's political inexperience makes him an unknown in the primary race. Was Clark's latest slip simply proof of his political naivete? Did he not recognize that his words would be taken seriously? And what does it say about Clark that he would have declared himself a Republican if only he had a chance to chat with Karl Rove? Clark may yet make a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. But if he keeps spinning yarns, he'll end up as the H. Ross Perot of the Democratic party.

Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.