Bill Clinton's mea culpa: Hillary must defend self

(dpa) - Former US president Bill Clinton, after provoking furore for attacks on his wife's chief rival for the White House nomination, said he may have made some mistakes trying to defend her.

But in an interview with NBC television on Friday, he said his remarks were "inaccurately" reported and interpreted. And he conceded that he had to let Hillary Clinton defend herself in the future.

The reporter tracked Clinton down in a diner in Portland, Maine, where Democratic voters are to hold a presidential caucus on Sunday.

Candidate Clinton, 60, and fellow Democratic senator Barack Obama, 46, are neck and neck in one of the hottest contested campaigns for the nomination in recent times.

"I think the mistake that I made is to think that I was a spouse like any other spouse who could defend his candidate," he said. "I think I can promote Hillary but not defend her because I was president."

"I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her," he said.

The former president has charged that Obama, a crowd-rousing public speaker, had a "fairy tale" idea about what he could do as president.

He also dismissed the South Carolina party primary victory by Obama, who is African-American, as not much more than the wins by civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson, who is black, in the heavily black state during 1980 presidential campaigns.

"I did not ever criticize Senator Obama personally in South Carolina. I never criticized him personally," Clinton said.

The former president's role in a possible presidency by his wife - it would be an all-time-US-first - has been frequent grist for the pundits' mill.

Would he be called the "first man" to the former first lady? Or would he call the shots?

The candidate has insisted she would wear the "pant suits" in her White House.

The former president said he would not interfere with the work of a "strong vice president, strong secretary of state, strong secretary of treasury."

"I will not be on the staff full-time. I will do what I'm asked to do."

"You know, we'll talk through things. And I'll be available for whatever specific assignments seem right," he said.

Clinton dismissed suggestions that he should withdraw from the campaign and mind the business of his globe-trotting foundation.

"Nobody else's family members are doing that," he retorted. "I would be campaigning for her if we were not married.

"She's the best qualified person to be president I've ever had a chance to support, and I feel strongly about it," he said.

Clinton said in the future, he would "promote her but not defend her."

"Even if I win an argument with another candidate, it's not the right thing to do," he said.

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