Obama Camp Pins Scrubbed Troop Visit on Pentagon

Obama camp says Pentagon tried to limit a planned visit to troops in Germany.

July 25, 2008 — -- Sen. Barack Obama's campaign staff and the Pentagon are putting forth different versions of what happened before Obama cancelled a planned Friday morning visit to the Ramstein air base in Germany.

The Obama campaign has suggested the Pentagon interfered with its decision to visit U.S. troops at the Ramstein and Landstuhl U.S. military bases in Germany -- something the Pentagon denied Friday.

In the air flying from Berlin to Paris, Obama senior advisor Robert Gibbs spent 45 minutes speaking to the press over the course of three media availabilities in an attempt to clarify what appeared to be dueling reasons for cancelling the trip.

German magazine Der Spiegel published an article Thursday saying Obama's planned trip to visit troops stations in Germany, including injured troops from Iraq, had been cancelled.

Obama senior advisor Robert Gibbs initially said the senator had decided to cancel visit out of concern that the campaign-funded trip might be seen as inappropriate. But after harsh criticism of that decision from Sen. John McCain's campaign, another Obama adviser later told ABC News that the decision was made only after the Pentagon advised the campaign that the trip would be viewed as a campaign stop.

"The senator decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign," Gibbs initially told ABC News Thursday in a statement.

A staffer from McCain's campaign quickly slammed Obama over his decision to cancel the visit.

"Barack Obama is wrong," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers Thursday. "It is never 'inappropriate' to visit our men and women in the military."

Then, Obama adviser Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration (Ret.), who liaised with the Pentagon on the logistics of Obama's trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe, later elaborated on why Obama decided to scratch the planned visit.

"We learned from the Pentagon last night that the visit would be viewed instead as a campaign event," Gration said Thursday. "Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops and decided instead not to go."

Clearly smarting from criticism over the cancelled visit, the Obama campaign again attempted to clarify its reasons for cancelling the trip Friday.

"The statement that I sent out and the statement that General Gration sent out are consistent in that what General Gration learned from the Pentagon, that the trip to Ramstein and Landstuhl will be viewed as a campaign stop," Gibbs said on the plane Friday morning. "The decision that Senator Obama made with that information was that we would not put our warriors in the position of being involved in a campaign stop. Therefore he made the decision not to make the stop."

Pentagon Disputes Obama Camp's Version

Gibbs explained the details of the planning of the visit, known as the tick tock, and suggested the Pentagon came to the Obama campaign late in the game, citing a regulation issue in making the case for the Obama campaign to cancel the visit.

The campaign would not answer whether Obama was denied outright from visiting the base.

Gibbs said Gration had been in contact with the Pentagon for three weeks during the planning of the visit. On July 15 or 16, he said the campaign received a PPR, a "prior permission required" -- which was required to land a nonmilitary aircraft (Obama's campaign plane) at an airbase in Germany.

But on Wednesday, Gibbs said, Gration received new information from the Pentagon, saying that this visit would be viewed as a campaign stop.

He said the Pentagon said Obama could visit wounded troops from Illinois in his capacity as a senator, but that was it. Gration dealt with the legislative affairs office within the office of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"He could go as a United States senator, but it was pretty clear from the guidance that we received from the Pentagon that the trip would be viewed as a campaign stop," Gibbs told reporters Friday. "Given the information that we had received, Senator Obama made the decision that we were not gonna have wounded men and women become involved in a campaign event or what would be perceived as a campaign event."

Gibbs said Obama made the final decision to cancel the visit after consulting with advisers on his Thursday flight from Tel Aviv to Berlin.

Gibbs then said either way -- if they kept the visit on their schedule or not -- it would have been criticized. "We might have gotten criticism for going, [but] we have been criticized for not going."

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman denied that the Pentagon had discouraged Obama from visiting the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Obama was "absolutely" told he could visit the troops at Landstuhl, said Whitman.

However, the issue of his visit was dealt with by hospital officials and military officials in Europe familiar with Pentagon guidelines for visits to military installations by a political campaign.

Whitman said Obama is "certainly welcome to visit a military medical facility any time he wants to," as long as that visit was consistent with that of a sitting senator.

He added, "We do have certain policy guidelines for political campaigns and elections and what's appropriate and not appropriate in those situations. But, the Pentagon, to use your words, certainly did not tell the senator that he could not visit Landstuhl."

The spokesman said that because Obama is both a sitting senator and a political candidate, any visit to Landstuhl would have had to be undertaken within the restrictions that apply to both.

"When you are doing things like a visit to Landstuhl you need to do it in your sitting capacity or you have to do it within the restrictions that apply to any other candidate that might be running for office that is not a sitting senator. So you have to be able to draw those distinctions. Generally speaking the military tries very hard not to get involved in political campaigns."

According to Whitman, Senate staffers could have accompanied Obama, but not campaign staffers. "It would be appropriate to do that with your Senate staff and obviously not with your campaign staff." He added that it would be easy to differentiate the two, "either you work for the senator's staff or you work on the campaign staff, it's very different."

Any discussion of cameras or photographers accompanying Obama was "off the table," said Whitman, who stressed that because of privacy issues, no photography is allowed at Landstuhl.

Whitman noted that during his visit to Iraq, Obama visited a military medical facility, but did so under the auspices of his participation in a congressional delegation, a CODEL.

"There's a distinction that he was part of a CODEL for his visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, then he terminated his participation in the CODEL and then went off to do other things," said Whitman.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, and David Wright contributed to this report.