A false claim that Hillary Clinton made while campaigning for president in 2008 is coming back to haunt her in the 2016 election cycle.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in a speech at George Washington University in March 2008 that she landed “under sniper fire” during a 1996 trip to Bosnia. The war ended in 1995, but tensions within the country were still high.
“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,” she said in 2008.
The Washington Post debunked this claim days after Clinton made it.
Old news footage reveals that there was, in fact, a greeting ceremony at Tuzla Air Base when Clinton landed. She met an 8-year-old Muslim girl who read her a poem, and video of the landing shows Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, calmly walking away from the plane and then greeting people on the tarmac:
In the footage, Clinton held a bouquet of flowers while she spoke to people gathered on the tarmac. Another shot showed her strolling near the plane with a group of young people.
Donald Trump has brought up the Bosnia claim on the campaign trail. The likely Republican nominee for president called Clinton a “world-class liar” in a speech on Wednesday, citing her “phony landing in Bosnia, where she said she was under attack and the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers.”
Clinton’s Bosnia story is widely regarded as a lie.
A CBS News correspondent who was on the trip with Clinton wrote her own account of it in 2008, after Clinton’s speech at George Washington University. She did admit that there were some potential security risks, but acknowledged that it didn’t rise to the level of landing under sniper fire.
Sharyl Attkisson recalled:
“Due to the possibility of sniper fire, our pilots used what we were told are ‘assault take-offs and landings.’ In short, the climb and descent are very fast, and very steep to minimize exposure to hostile fire on the ground.”
“It’s exciting and frightening and, in the midst of it all, wearing our helmets and bulletproof vests, it’s easy to imagine we may be narrowly escaping enemy bullets.”
“In reality, we had no known incidents of enemy fire on our aircraft.”
To be fair, however, Attkisson did note in her 1996 CBS report that the “frontline outpost” that Clinton and Chelsea visited was “one of the most dangerous places where US forces are operating.”
“The president himself never made it this far inside Bosnia when he visited in January,” Attkisson said in the report.
The Clinton campaign’s response
Immediately after the 2008 speech, Clinton held her ground.
PolitiFact noted that when a reporter asked her about the Bosnia trip after the speech, Clinton said: “There was no greeting ceremony, and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened.”
But days later, she admitted that she “misspoke” about the Bosnia visit.
“I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement,” she told the Philadelphia Daily News’ editorial board at the time.
“I was told we had to land a certain way, we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and, I can’t, I can’t rush by her, I’ve got to at least greet her – so I greeted her, I took her stuff and then I left. Now that’s my memory of it.”
At the time, the Clinton campaign sought to downplay the Bosnia story.
Then Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters in 2008:
“The facts are clear from contemporaneous news accounts that she was entering a potentially dangerous situation. She has written about this before, she has talked about this before and there you have it. Now, is it possible that in the most recent instance in which she discussed this that she misspoke, with regards to the exit from the plane, but there’s no question that I hope everyone is clear about this in the reporting, there is no question if you look at these contemporaneous accounts that she was going to a potential combat zone, that it was by the front lines and the first person since Eleanore Roosevelt to do that and she was going into a hostile military environment.”
After The Post ran its original Bosnia fact-check story in 2008, former Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine, who accompanied Clinton on the trip, contacted the newspaper with this statement:
“I was on the plane with then First Lady Hillary Clinton for the trip from Germany into Bosnia in 1996. We were put on a C-17 – a plane capable of steep ascents and descents – precisely because we were flying into what was considered a combat zone. We were issued flak jackets for the final leg because of possible sniper fire near Tuzla. As an additional precaution, the First Lady and Chelsea were moved to the armored cockpit for the descent into Tuzla. We were told that a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac might be canceled because of sniper fire in the hills surrounding the air strip. From Tuzla, Hillary flew to two outposts in Bosnia with gunships escorting her helicopter.”
But the speech at George Washington University wasn’t the only time Clinton told of a dangerous trip to Bosnia.
PolitiFact pointed out that in 2007, she told The Des Moines Register: “We landed in one of those corkscrew landings and ran out because they said there might be sniper fire. I don’t remember anyone offering me tea on the tarmac there.”