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Clinton backpedals on drama of Bosnia landing

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/25/america/clinton.php Clinton backpedals on drama of Bosnia landing By Patrick Healy and Katharine Q. Seelye Published:
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2008
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      http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/25/america/clinton.php

      Clinton backpedals on drama of Bosnia landing
      By Patrick Healy and Katharine Q. Seelye
      Published: March 25, 2008

      BLUE BELL, Pennsylvania: As part of her argument that
      she has the best experience and instincts to deal with
      a sudden crisis as president, Senator Hillary Rodham
      Clinton recently offered a vivid description of having
      to run across a tarmac to avoid sniper fire after
      landing in Bosnia as first lady in 1996.

      Yet on Monday, Clinton said that she "misspoke" about
      the episode - a concession that came after CBS News
      showed footage of her walking calmly across the tarmac
      with her daughter, Chelsea, and being greeted by
      dignitaries and a child.

      The backpedaling was a rare instance of Clinton
      acknowledging an error, and she did so on a sensitive
      issue: She has cited her "strength and experience"
      since the start of the presidential race, framing her
      80 trips abroad as first lady as preparation for
      dealing with foreign affairs as president. That
      argument was behind her campaign's "red phone"
      commercial, which cast her as best able to handle a
      crisis.

      Clinton corrected herself at a meeting with the
      editorial board of The Philadelphia Daily News; she
      did not explain why she had misspoken, but only
      acknowledged it and then offered a less dramatic
      description.

      Clinton said she had been told "that we had to land a
      certain way and move quickly because of the threat of
      sniper fire," not that actual shots were being fired.

      "So I misspoke," she said.

      Earlier Monday, Clinton advisers corrected the Bosnia
      anecdote, saying they did not want it to harm her
      credibility. One Clinton foreign adviser, speaking on
      condition of anonymity in exchange for being candid
      about her mistake, said that Clinton had been "too
      loose" with her words and that she risked looking like
      "she was trying to pump up a somewhat risky situation
      into a very dangerous one."

      In her most recent account, offered last week, Clinton
      described an action-packed arrival in war-torn Bosnia.

      "I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia," she
      said, in remarks that aides described Monday as not
      being part of her prepared speech. "I remember landing
      under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind
      of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we
      just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles
      to get to our base."

      In interviews Monday, aides to Clinton at the time of
      the trip, as well as an Associated Press photographer
      who was on the trip, said that she and others were
      briefed before landing about the possibility of sniper
      fire around the airport in Tuzla, Bosnia.

      None of the aides remember actual sniper fire, nor did
      the photographer, Doug Mills, who now works for The
      New York Times.

      "I remember being told we were going into a war zone,
      but I don't remember any commotion at the airport,"
      Mills said. "I don't recall her running to cars. If
      that had happened, we would have made a picture of
      it."

      Major General William Nash, who has since retired but
      was then the commander of U.S. troops in Bosnia and
      was at the Tuzla airport that day, said in an
      interview that there was no threat of sniper fire at
      the airport during Clinton's visit. He said she was
      gracious during her visit and took pictures with the
      soldiers.

      "She never had her head down," Nash said. "There was
      no sniper threat that I know of."

      Before Clinton's admission that she had misspoken, a
      spokesman for the campaign, Howard Wolfson, was asked
      Monday on a conference call with reporters to square
      her recent accounts with other evidence. In response,
      Wolfson referred to news accounts at the time that
      described the region as hostile.

      He then added: "There is no question if you look at
      contemporaneous accounts that she was going to a
      potential combat zone, that she was on the front
      lines."

      Minutes later, when pressed to clarify his comment,
      Wolfson said news accounts made clear that the area in
      which she was landing was "a potential combat zone and
      was hazardous."

      He said that in her memoir, "Living History," Clinton
      wrote about sniper fire in the hills and "clearly
      meant to say that" when she brought it up last week.
      He said she had described the event many times the
      same way and that "in one instance, she said it
      slightly differently."

      In her comments Monday, Clinton made a similar point,
      saying, "I didn't say that in my book or other times."
      Clinton had described the sniper fire in similar terms
      at least twice in recent weeks. She mentioned it on
      Feb. 29 in Waco, Texas, when she was rolling out her
      "red phone" commercial, recalling the trip to Bosnia
      and saying that the welcoming ceremony "had to be
      moved inside because of sniper fire."

      According to Clinton's public schedule for March 25,
      1996, she arrived in Tuzla at 8:55 a.m. local time,
      and was greeted by the acting president of Bosnia,
      Ejup Ganic; the U.S. ambassador, John Menzies; two
      senior U.S. military officials; an 8-year-old girl;
      and a seventh-grade class that had been "adopted by
      Germany."

      The first lady's public schedule, which was among more
      than 11,000 pages released by the National Archives
      last week, lists the greeting ceremony on the tarmac
      at the Tuzla airport this way: "Ambassador Menzies
      intros HRC to greeters; 8-year-old Bosnian Girl Reads
      Poem to HRC; HRC greets 7th grade class."

      Later that day, Clinton spoke at a show for
      approximately 500 troops. She was joined by the
      comedian Sinbad and the singer Sheryl Crow, both of
      whom performed for the troops, according to the
      schedule. Late that afternoon, Clinton and her
      entourage left Tuzla for Aviano Air Base in Italy.

      Sinbad challenged her account of sniper fire soon
      after he heard it more than a week ago, saying the
      scariest part of the trip for him was wondering where
      the next meal would come from. Sinbad is supporting
      Senator Barack Obama for president.

      Don Van Natta contributed from New York, and Helene
      Cooper from Washington.
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