Well, It Did Happen to Somebody

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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, March 27, 2008

For those of you who doubt that story involving a Balkan airport, the one Hillary Rodham Clinton tells about darting across the tarmac to dodge sniper fire, take note: It really did happen.

Just not to Clinton.

In October 1995, six months before then-first lady Clinton led a delegation to Tuzla, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and six other senators went on a fact-finding mission through war-torn Sarajevo, just before the Dayton accords resulted in a U.S. military presence on the ground in Bosnia.

Snowe's congressional delegation had an experience remarkably similar to the one Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) described in a speech delivered on St. Patrick's Day. Clinton has since said that she "misspoke" when she recalled arriving in Tuzla under sniper fire.

Unlike Clinton's version, Snowe's story was backed up by news accounts. Clinton's story has been debunked by sources including television news accounts and the memories of the comedian Sinbad.

The seven senators flew into the host city of the 1984 Olympics on a military C-130 that, in addition to its senatorial payload, was carrying 20,000 pounds of peas to the starved city. A States News Service dispatch from Oct. 20, 1995, provided a portion of Snowe's Bosnia account:

"It's really sad. People are basically just living there and trying to survive," the Maine Republican said. "They're constantly living under threat of shelling or sniper fire." . . . As the plane landed she took note of the fortified bunkers surrounding Sarajevo's airport. . . . She glanced at the wall of firetrucks lined up along the airport tarmac, acting as shields from any Serb gunman looking to make a name for himself. She dashed across the runway to an armored vehicle waiting to whisk the senators to the city center. She glared at the hollowed-out remains of buildings along the city's main highway, better known as "Sniper Alley."

And here's Clinton's description of her landing in Tuzla in 1996, with an entourage that included Sinbad and singer Sheryl Crow:

"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."

That was Clinton's March 17 recounting of the '96 trip, coming six days after Sinbad had already publicly refuted Clinton's prior versions of the trip. In other accounts, Clinton had said there was a "threat of sniper fire," so they ran across the tarmac into an awaiting military vehicle.

The Tuzla airport case culminated this week with Clinton sheepishly admitting that she "misspoke" after archived CBS News footage showed her calmly walking off the plane with her daughter, Chelsea, then a teenager, at an arrival ceremony that offered no sign of gunfire.

Snowe, who is vacationing this week, declined to comment about her own trip 12 1/2 years ago.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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