August 12, 2006
By PATRICK HEALY and JENNIFER MEDINA
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman seized on the terror arrests in Britain today to attack his Democratic rival, Ned Lamont, saying that Mr. Lamont’s goals for ending the war in Iraq would constitute a “victory” for extremists, including those accused of plotting to blow up airliners traveling between Britain and the United States.
“If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,” Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event at lunchtime in Waterbury, Conn. “It will strengthen them and they will strike again.”
Mr. Lamont, who rode an antiwar message to beat Mr. Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary on Tuesday, has called for a firm deadline to remove front-line American troops from Iraq, and he endorsed a Democratic-sponsored amendment in the Senate to set that deadline for next July. Mr. Lieberman opposed setting a deadline.
In a telephone interview from his vacation home in Maine, Mr. Lamont said he was disappointed with the personal tone Mr. Lieberman’s remarks, and questioned the connection between the Iraq war and the new terrorist plot. He also continued his strategy of trying to link Mr. Lieberman’s views with those of the Bush administration, whose approach the senator has tended to support in the fight against terrorism.
“Wow,” Mr. Lamont said, after asking a reporter to read Mr. Lieberman’s remark about him. “That comment sounds an awful lot like Vice President Cheney’s comment on Wednesday. Both of them believe our invasion of Iraq has a lot to do with 9/11. That’s a false premise.”
Dick Cheney, in an interview with reporters on Wednesday, lamented Mr. Lieberman’s loss in the primary and said that Al Qaeda and other terrorists were counting on Americans to adopt a weaker military posture, and that the victory of Mr. Lamont over Mr. Lieberman indicated that “the dominant view of the Democratic Party” favored that weaker approach.
Mr. Lieberman also revealed today that, several hours after Mr. Cheney made those remarks about the Connecticut race, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the senator to tell him about the foiled terror plot. Mr. Lieberman is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Mr. Lieberman has made the controversial decision to continue running for a fourth term in the general election this fall, but as an independent, and he is now seeking support from moderate Democrats, Republicans, and voters who do not belong to either party.
At the Waterbury event, Mr. Lieberman sought to compare his 18-year record in the Senate on national defense and homeland security to the relative inexperience of Mr. Lamont, a former Greenwich selectman who has never run for statewide office before.
“I’m worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don’t appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us — more evil, or as evil, as Nazism and probably more dangerous than the Soviet Communists we fought during the long Cold War,” Mr. Lieberman said.
“We cannot deceive ourselves that we live in safety today and the war is over, and it’s why we have to stay strong and vigilant,” he added.
Mr. Lamont hesitated when he was asked if Mr. Lieberman’s criticisms were beyond the bounds of acceptable political combat.
“To try to score political points on every international issues…” Mr. Lamont said, before pausing and stopping himself. Then he added, “Why do I have to say anything?”
Mr. Lieberman said today that he was trying to stay above the fray of partisan politics, side-stepping a reporter’s question about Mr. Cheney’s remarks about Democrats by saying that he was focused on Connecticut, not the rest of the country.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have healthy disagreement and discussion about national security, but to make it into a partisan political football, it’s just unacceptable and in my opinion un-American,” he said.
“How the heck can we be in a battle in which we are fighting as Democrats and Republicans against each other when these terrorists certainly don’t distinguish based on our party affiliation?” Mr. Lieberman said. “They want to kill any and all of us.”
Mr. Lamont’s campaign manager, Tom Swan, said in an interview that Mr. Lieberman would pay a political price with Connecticut voters for aligning himself with the Bush administration on homeland security strategy.
“Did Karl Rove write this attack line for Joe?” Mr. Swan said, referring to the president’s senior adviser. Mr. Rove told reporters this morning that he had called Mr. Lieberman, whom he described as “a personal friend,” on the primary day on Tuesday to wish him luck against Mr. Lamont.