Clinton 'misspoke' over claims of sniper fire in visit to Bosnia

David Usborne
Wednesday 26 March 2008 01:00 GMT

Hillary Clinton has been struggling to downplay suggestions that she deliberately tried to exaggerate the role she played in world events in her years as first lady after admitting she "misspoke" in a recent description of a 1996 trip to Bosnia by claiming she landed amid sniper fire.

The trap was set by Mrs Clinton herself 10 days ago when she gave a foreign policy speech designed to demonstrate she is more battle-ready to be commander-in-chief on "day one" than her less experienced rival, Barack Obama.

Her recollection of her landing near Tuzla was nothing if not vivid. "I remember landing under sniper fire," she said. "There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

However, CBS News has aired footage showing her calmly alighting from her military aircraft and indeed participating in an arrival ceremony. Nobody who was present that day has any memory of imminent danger or sniper fire.

The controversy has arisen as Mrs Clinton travels through Pennsylvania to bolster support ahead of its primary in four weeks' time. It has eclipsed coverage of her scheduled appearances and threatened to undercut her foreign policy experience message.

It was during an editorial board interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, published yesterday, that Mrs Clinton was finally forced to confess she "misspoke" about the Tuzla trip.

"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 it was just a misstatement," she said.

But an Obama spokesman, Tommy Vietor, noted she made her claims in a scripted speech. "When you make a false claim that's in your prepared remarks, it's not misspeaking, it's misleading," he said.

Mrs Clinton has been accused similarly of overstating her participation as first lady in brokering peace in Northern Ireland and ending the Kosovo refugee crisis. She nonetheless remains well ahead in most polls in Pennsylvania, which votes on 22 April. Two weeks later votes will be cast in Indiana – where Mr Obama is favoured to win – and North Carolina – which is likely to be close.

Mr Obama has sought additional advantage by announcing the release of his tax returns on his website. It is a move designed to put Mrs Clinton on the defensive over her own returns which she has failed to make public.

Mr Obama may be regaining his balance after the recent furore over his ties to the fiery Chicago preacher Jeremiah Wright. His polling numbers seem largely unaffected by the controversy. Mrs Clinton's Bosnia gaffe and other Clinton distractions can only be helping. Among them was an outburst by the Democrat consultant James Carville who called the New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, "Judas" for abandoning her and endorsing Mr Obama. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, will continue to make the most of Mrs Clinton coming under fire for not – as it were – coming under fire.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: On the Campaign Trail

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