KRANJ, Slovenia - Laura Bush said yesterday that she admired the "grit and strength" and endurance Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton demonstrated in the Democratic Party's long series of hard-fought primaries. She also came to the defense of Sen. Barack Obama's wife, Michelle.

Michelle Obama has been harshly criticized by Republicans for saying during a February campaign appearance that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of the United States.

"I think she probably meant, 'I'm more proud,' " the first lady told ABC's

Good Morning America

. "You have to be very careful in what you say. Everything you say is looked at and in many cases misconstrued." (Michelle Obama had later clarified her remark, saying she had always been proud of her country.)

Bush flew to Slovenia on Sunday after making an unannounced trip to Afghanistan - her third as first lady - to rally international aid for the war-weary Afghans.

- AP

Complaint to FEC targets McCain

WASHINGTON - A group that supports public financing of campaigns filed a federal complaint yesterday against Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, calling for an investigation into two financial transactions involving two top McCain aides.

The Federal Election Commission complaint by Campaign Money Watch, which has received financing from Democratic-leaning donors, questions payments from former finance chair Tom Loeffler to campaign-finance director Susan Nelson. It also questions the reduction of a debt to a Web-services firm co-owned by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.

"A campaign manager renegotiating a debt with a company he partly owns raises serious conflict-of-interest questions," said David Donnelly, the director of Campaign Money Watch.

Donnelly also questioned whether Loeffler's payments to Nelson amounted to an illegal subsidy to a campaign staffer. Loeffler is a lobbyist and former congressman, and Nelson is a former associate of Loeffler's lobbying firm. The campaign has said the payments, first reported by Newsweek, were for legitimate work and were legal.

Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers called the complaint "baseless."

"All campaign actions were carefully reviewed by legal counsel and were fully in accord with FEC rules and election law," he said. The campaign did not address the specific issues raised in the complaint.

- AP