WASHINGTON -- An aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton and the White House pushed back Tuesday against Republican strategist Karl Rove for suggesting that the former secretary of state's health could be an issue if she runs for president in 2016.
Rove told Fox News, for which he is a commentator, that Clinton had a "serious health episode" that would be a legitimate issue for her in a potential presidential campaign "whether she likes it or not."
The New York Post reported Tuesday that Rove suggested at a private conference near Los Angeles last week that Clinton suffered brain damage. Rove disputed that he was referring to any brain damage.
"I didn't say she had brain damage. I said she had a serious health episode," he said on Fox News.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill called Rove's comments "flagrant and thinly veiled. They are scared of what she has achieved and what she has to offer."
The tussle between the former top political adviser to President George W. Bush and Clinton's team came as the 66-year-old former first lady considers running for president again and is preparing for a book tour next month on her State Department years. Clinton is the leading Democratic contender for president but has not yet said whether she will seek the White House.
As President Barack Obama's secretary of state, Clinton fell ill with a stomach bug in December 2012 after returning from a trip to Europe. The illness forced her to cancel a planned visit to North Africa and the Middle East and left her severely dehydrated. While at home, she fainted and fell and suffered a concussion.
During a follow up examination on Dec. 30, doctors discovered a blood clot in a vein that runs between the skull and the brain behind her right ear and she was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for treatment with blood thinners. She was released after a brief hospitalization.
Merrill said Clinton is "100 percent" and accused Rove of being part of an effort by Republicans to politicize her health. He noted that some Republicans quipped that Clinton had "Benghazi flu" when her illness forced her to reschedule her testimony before Congress on the 2012 terrorist attack on a diplomatic post in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"First they accused her of faking it, now they've resorted to the other extreme -- and are flat-out lying," Merrill said. He said Rove was getting his facts wrong but "doesn't care, because all he wants to do is inject the issue into the echo chamber, and he's succeeding."
White House press secretary Jay Carney mocked the former George W. Bush adviser as "Dr. Rove" and cited Rove's election night questioning on Fox News that President Barack Obama had won re-election in 2012.
"Dr. Rove might have been the last person in America on election night to recognize and acknowledge that the president had won re-election," Carney said.