- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recanted tale that she ran for cover to avoid sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia has been raised again in the campaign, this time by her husband, even as new details emerged to refute her claim she has always opposed the NAFTA trade deal.

Accusing news outlets of ganging up on her as if “she’d robbed a bank,” former President Bill Clinton delivered a stout defense of his wife in a campaign speech Thursday in Boonville, Ind., saying that after an exhausting day, she misstated the story’s details just one time during a late-night campaign speech and “immediately apologized for it.”

Mr. Clinton, maintaining she was the only first lady to visit a war zone since Eleanor Roosevelt in World War II, said Gen. Wesley Clark later recalled a potentially dangerous plane ride requiring flak jackets, when Mrs. Clinton had to go to the “bulletproof part of the plane” as it landed before “an abbreviated arrival ceremony” at Tuzla, Bosnia, in 1996.

But the former president, and Mrs. Clinton’s chief campaign surrogate and closest adviser, got a number of facts wrong in his retelling of a story that already had raised questions about the New York senator’s candor.

First, Mrs. Clinton did not tell the story “one time, late at night when she was exhausted,” as her husband said in his remarks Thursday. She told the story in several campaign speeches, once in a prepared foreign policy address on the morning of March 17 at George Washington University.

Notably, Mr. Clinton’s suggestion that his wife’s recollection of the trip was hazy because it was “late at night when she was exhausted” seemed to contradict the alert image she portrayed in a TV ad that asked voters who they wanted answering the White House red phone at 3 a.m. in a national emergency.

She did not immediately apologize, either. Instead, she acknowledged a week after the March 17 speech that she had “misspoke” and made a “mistake” — after TV film of the arrival showed a peaceful reception at the airport where she was greeted by several dignitaries, including an 8-year-old girl who read a poem to her and daughter Chelsea.

Moreover, Mrs. Clinton was not the only first lady to visit a combat zone since Mrs. Roosevelt — Pat Nixon visited Saigon during the Vietnam War.

But news wire services and cable news shows didn’t mince words in reporting Mr. Clinton’s embellished retelling of the tale and her campaign sought to play it down yesterday.

“Former President Clinton has added to the falsehoods surrounding his wife’s tale of her trip to Bosnia 12 years ago,” the Associated Press said yesterday.

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer, said the former first lady “appreciates her husband standing up for her, but this was her mistake and she takes responsibility for it.”

Meantime, new disclosures raised doubts about Mrs. Clinton’s claim to have opposed the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) from the beginning, despite her husband’s all-out support for the pact.

On March 6, 1996, several years after the pact was approved by Congress, Mrs. Clinton spoke favorably about NAFTA before a group of labor union workers in New York’s Garment District.

“I think everybody is in favor of free and fair trade. I think NAFTA is proving its worth. That’s what a free and fair trade agreement like NAFTA is all about,” she said.

She praised NAFTA again in a keynote address to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in a July 29, 2002, speech that recounted her husband’s economic record.

“The economic recovery plan stands first and foremost as a testament to both good ideas and political courage. National service. The Brady Bill. Family leave. NAFTA … All of these came out of some very fundamental ideas about what would work,” she said.

Her campaign has told the Associated Press that reciting her husband’s accomplishments doesn’t mean she favored them.

The DLC declined to comment to The Washington Times.

These are quotes from former President Bill Clinton about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1996 landing in Tuzla, Bosnia, and words from others.

“A lot of the way this whole campaign has been covered has amused me. There was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia.”

Former President Bill Clinton in a campaign speech Thursday in Boonville, Ind.

“I remember landing under sniper fire. 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.”

Mrs. Clinton, George Washington University, March 17, prepared foreign policy address delivered that morning

“There was no greeting ceremony and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now that is what happened.”

Mrs. Clinton, repeating the claim at the George Washington speech in the question-and-answer session

“We ran out (of the plane) because they said there might be sniper fire. I don’t remember anyone offering me tea on the tarmac … We used to say in the White House, ‘if a place was too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the first lady.’ ”

Mrs. Clinton, speaking in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2007

“When the plane landed in Bosnia, she had to go up to the bulletproof part of the plane, in the front. Everybody else had to put their flak jackets underneath the seat in case they got shot at.”

Mr. Clinton, speaking Thursday

“By the time she got there, the war was over. And just outside the gates of the Tuzla airfield, if you happened to pass by with one of those fully armored American units, you could see the Scandinavian soldiers in their bathing suits, without a stitch of body armor, sun bathing on the raised wooden platform they’d built on their military base.”

Elizabeth Sullivan, foreign affairs columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The brutal war was over … that’s not what happened and we should know: CBS News accompanied the first lady and daughter Chelsea on that Bosnia trip. That’s Sen. Clinton talking to me on the military flight to Tuzla. … There was no sniper fire.”

Cheryl Atkinson, CBS News report, March 24

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