- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign yesterday challenged rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s explanation that she “misspoke” when she said she braved sniper fire during a 1996 Bosnia trip — saying the former first lady has a “troubling” penchant for inflating her foreign-policy credentials.

“When you make a false claim that’s in your prepared remarks, it’s not misspeaking — it’s misleading,” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Obama campaign pointed to other disputed items on Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy resume, including her claims that as first lady she played a prominent role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland and negotiating with Macedonia to accept Kosovo refugees.

Senior U.S. diplomats have credited Mrs. Clinton, of New York, with a minor but helpful role appealing to women in Northern Ireland, and Macedonia reportedly agreed to let in refugees the day before Mrs. Clinton arrived in the country.

The Clinton campaign responded by criticizing Mr. Obama, of Illinois, for repeatedly exaggerating his record in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

“Senator Obama’s campaign is based on words — not a record of deeds — and if those words aren’t backed up by facts, there’s not much else left,” Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said.

The list of Mr. Obama’s exaggerations included his calling himself a professor of constitutional law when he was a senior lecturer and claiming credit for passing health care legislation as an Illinois state senator when the bill only created a legislative task force.

Questions about Mrs. Clinton’s account of the Bosnian trip have pestered her for weeks.

In December, Mrs. Clinton recalled a “corkscrew landing” at the Tuzla airport amid a threat of sniper fire from surrounding hills. That description was contradicted in a Washington Post article recently by comedian Sinbad, who was on the trip as part of a USO show.

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But Mrs. Clinton expanded the story Monday, saying, “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.”

CBS News video footage showed Mrs. Clinton and her daughter, smiling and waving to the crowd, as they walked off the plane and across the tarmac.

“We all make mistakes,” she told reporters in Greensburg, Pa., where she campaigned for the state’s April 22 primary. “Lighten up. … I say millions of words every week, and there is a lot of room for error when you are talking as much as I am.”

In an interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Mrs. Clinton briefly revived the flap over racist sermons by Mr. Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“He would not have been my pastor,” Mrs. Clinton told the newspaper. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.”

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton mocked the Clinton camp’s transparent effort to deflect attention from their candidate’s changing story.

“The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech,” Mr. Burton said. “The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.”

Mr. Obama’s lead slipped in national polls amid video clips of Mr. Wright at the pulpit railing against white America and making racist attacks on Mrs. Clinton. The episode prompted Mr. Obama last week to deliver a major speech on race relations.

A campaign strategist close to Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, said the Bosnia story probably did less damage to Mrs. Clinton than the revelations about Mr. Wright did to Mr. Obama because racist ties undercut Mr. Obama’s chief appeal as a candidate who transcends race and traditional politics.

But the exaggeration about Bosnia sets up future attacks on Mrs. Clinton’s credibility if she makes it to the general election, said the strategist, who did not want to be identified discussing Democratic candidates.

“She appears to be hanging herself with this thing,” he said, noting that Mrs. Clinton has equated her foreign-policy experience as first lady with Mr. McCain’s 22 years as a Navy fighter pilot and four terms in the U.S. Senate.

“There is a pretty big difference when you look at the entirety of the experience,” said the strategist.

“It is one of those things that is a fundamental problem for her.”

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