WASHINGTON -- President Clinton condemned the bombing in Atlanta yesterday as "an evil act of terror" aimed at the Olympics and the American way of life. Grim-faced after a night of little sleep, he vowed that the attack would not succeed in extinguishing the spirit of either.
"An act of vicious terror like this is clearly directed at the spirit of our own democracy," Clinton said in his weekly radio address, televised live from the White House. "It seeks to rip also at the spirit of the Olympics. But we must not let these attacks stop us from going forward."
In the wake of the bombing that left two dead and 111 injured, partisan politics was put on hold. Clinton substituted a speech on the bombing for his planned radio talk on welfare; immediately after, he began phoning the nation's congressional and political leaders, including Republican presidential challenger Bob Dole.
"We will spare no efforts to find out who was responsible for this murderous act," said the president, who reiterated his support of capital punishment for terrorists. "We will track them down, we will bring them to justice, we will see that they are punished."
Dole, in the GOP radio response, voiced similar sentiments.
"For the second time in two weeks, we find ourselves mourning the loss of innocent life," he said. "We make a very public pledge: We will find the perpetrators, we will stop them, we will punish them, and we will never surrender to their terror."
Dole's reference was to both the Atlanta attack and the TWA plane crash, a tragedy federal authorities suspect was also the work of a bomber.
Asked whether there was any connection between the TWA disaster and the Atlanta bombing, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied, "We have no reason to believe that."
Top White House aides have been active in the planning of precautions in Atlanta. Presidential adviser Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III is in Atlanta for the Games, monitoring issues ranging from security to transportation.
Yesterday, network television reports indicated that Vice President Al Gore, who departed from Atlanta just hours before the bombing, had criticized security arrangements. McCurry flatly denied that Gore had said anything of the sort.
The president was alerted to the bombing in a 2 a.m. phone call from chief of staff Leon E. Panetta.
Clinton said the first call he made was to Gore and the two men stayed up most of the night, watching television and monitoring developments by phone.
At 9: 30 a.m., Clinton initiated the first of two conference calls with top law enforcement and Olympic officials. The participants in the first included Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh.
The second conversation was with McLarty, Atlanta organizers such as Billy Payne, and International Olympic Committee officials, including IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
All were said to be in agreement: the Games must continue.
To avoid the impression that the government was being held hostage by bombers, Clinton kept to his schedule. He spoke by satellite to 1,000 Latino supporters in 47 cities and went, as planned, to Camp David.
Today he is to keep an appointment to address disabled veterans in New Orleans.
At the White House, security was heightened, however. When a tourist left an backpack a few feet from the front gate, Secret Service officials quickly cleared the sidewalk and sent for a bomb squad.
After the pack was examined by a bomb-sniffing dog, the woman who owned the bag was allowed to take it and walk away. The sidewalk was then reopened.
But administration officials insisted that Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are still planning to attend the closing ceremonies, as long as law enforcement officials in Atlanta don't feel their presence would interfere with security efforts.
Pub Date: 7/28/96