WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said she "misspoke" last week when saying she had landed under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia as first lady in March 1996. She later characterized the episode as a "misstatement" and a "minor blip."
The Obama campaign suggested the statement was a deliberate exaggeration by Clinton, who often cites the goodwill trip with her daughter and several celebrities as an example of her foreign policy experience.
During a speech last Monday on Iraq, she said of the Bosnia trip: "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."
According to an Associated Press story at the time, Clinton was placed under no extraordinary risks on the trip. And one of her companions, comedian Sinbad, told The Washington Post he has no recollection either of the threat or reality of gunfire.
When asked Monday about the New York senator's remarks about the trip, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson pointed to Clinton's written account of it in her book, "Living History," in which she described a shortened welcoming ceremony at Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip, we were forced to cut short an event on the tarmac with local children, though we did have time to meet them and their teachers and to learn how hard they had worked during the war to continue classes in any safe spot they could find," Clinton wrote.
"That is what she wrote in her book," Wolfson said. "That is what she has said many, many times and on one occasion she misspoke."
Asked about the issue during a meeting with the Philadelphia Daily News' editorial board on Monday, Clinton said she "misspoke."
"I went to 80 countries, you know. I gave contemporaneous accounts, I wrote about a lot of this in my book. You know, I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things — millions of words a day — so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement," she said.
A spokesman for rival Barack Obama's campaign questioned whether Clinton misspoke, saying her comments came in what appeared to be prepared remarks for the Iraq speech. His campaign's statement included a link to the speech on Clinton's campaign Web site with her account of running to the cars. Clinton's campaign said what is on the Web site is not the prepared text, but a transcript of her remarks, including comments before the speech in which she talked about the trip to Bosnia.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a written statement that Clinton's Bosnia story "joins a growing list of instances in which Senator Clinton has exaggerated her role in foreign and domestic policymaking."
The Obama campaign statement also links to a CBS News video of the Bosnia trip posted on YouTube, which shows Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, walking across the tarmac from a large cargo plane, smiling and waving, and stopping to shake hands with Bosnia's acting president and greet an 8-year-old girl.
"This is something that the Obama campaign wants to push 'cause they have nothing positive to say about their candidate," Wolfson said Monday.
Clinton's written account contradicts her comments last Monday about the welcoming ceremony.
Just after the speech, Clinton reaffirmed the account of running from the plane to the cars when she was asked about it during a news conference. She said was moved into the cockpit of the C-17 cargo plane as they were flying into Tuzla Air Base.
"Everyone else was told to sit on their bulletproof vests," Clinton said. "And we came in, in an evasive maneuver. ... There was no greeting ceremony, and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened."
Former Army Secretary Togo West, who accompanied Clinton to Bosnia, said he was not surprised "that there could be confusion" when someone who has taken a number of trips tries to recall details of a particular trip 12 years earlier.
"The important thing is that she was there. Our soldiers saw she was there and heard her and knew that our country cared about them and what they were doing," West told the AP during a telephone interview.