MARIETTA, Ga. — As Sen. Bob Dole sought political mileage Saturday from the disclosure that the Clinton White House had obtained FBI files on prominent Republicans, the Clinton campaign tried to exploit the GOP presidential candidate's appearance here on the same platform with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The White House called the file search, which occurred in 1993, "an innocent bureaucratic mistake," but Dole, campaigning in this growing Atlanta suburb that is Gingrich's political base, called it "dirt-digging."
"For an administration that is supposed to be the most ethical in history, the Clinton White House certainly makes a lot of innocent mistakes," the Kansas senator said, referring to the investigations into the Whitewater land deal and the White House travel office firings.
"President Clinton owes an apology to the individuals involved and to all Americans for this sad invasion of privacy," Dole said, prompting cheers and applause from a crowd of about 2,000 people at a political rally. "Clearly, this latest incident will raise concerns that we are in for a very negative, dirty campaign this fall."
White House special counsel Mark D. Fabiani called Dole's comments "wild political charges," and Clinton-Gore deputy campaign manager Ann Lewis rejected the call for an apology.
"The real news is that once again Sen. Dole has nothing positive to say about his own record or his vision for America," Lewis said.
The White House acknowledged on Friday that files had been obtained from the FBI on 330 Republicans, including such prominent figures as former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, former White House Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein, and Gingrich's spokesman, Tony Blankley.
White House officials said the operation was conducted because low-level White House staffers mistakenly thought the data was needed on previous White House pass-holders.
The documents have all been returned to the FBI, the White House said Saturday.
As for Dole's appearance with Gingrich, whose popularity in the polls has sagged during his year-and-a-half run as speaker, Lewis said that "today's campaign appearance reminds us that Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich are the real teammates in this election."
In a sense, the rally here was a Hobson's choice for Dole. While sharing the platform gave Democrats another chance to link Dole with public dissatisfaction with the Gingrich leadership, failing to do so would have offended hundreds of GOP faithful.
Dole credited the speaker with the vision that brought control of the House to the Republicans in 1994. "A lot of people say Bob Dole and Newt can't get along. I must say, we've developed a great friendship," Dole said.
Later in the day, Dole returned to Washington to attend a fund-raiser for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who is up for reelection this year. Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the man many Republicans say they would like to see as Dole's running mate, also attended.
Outside the home of Duberstein, a close Powell friend who hosted the fund-raiser, the former Joint Chiefs chairman was pressed by reporters yet again about whether he would like to be Dole's running mate.
"Everybody's heard me speak to the subject," Powell said. "The senator and I will have many conversations in the month ahead."
Dole acknowledged afterward that one of those conversations occurred while the two were in Duberstein's house, but he declined to say what they talked about.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang and wire services contributed to this story.