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Obama's cancellation of a military hospital visit leaves unanswered questions

July 25, 2008 | 10:10 am

The varying explanations for the cancellation of Barack Obama’s planned visit today to the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany are leaving campaign-watchers puzzled.

Obama had been scheduled to greet U.S. troops at the hospital just before leaving Germany this afternoon for Paris, where he met French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace.

But first, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs released a statement Thursday night saying the senator had 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."

The campaign amended that explanation this morning. Obama wanted to thank the troops for their service, but "we learned from the Pentagon last night that the visit would be viewed instead as....

...a campaign event.," Obama advisor Scott Gration, a retired Air Force major general, said in a statement.

On Obama’s flight from Berlin to Paris, Gibbs offered more details. Around July 15, the Pentagon approved Obama’s visit. But military officials later invoked a rule on political activity at military bases and questioned whether it would cover Obama’s visit, Gibbs said.

Obama spokesmen said they were seeking clarification on what the rule is. Gibbs also declined to speculate on why the Pentagon did not cite the rule until Wednesday.

That account, however, didn’t square with the Defense Department’s explanation. The Pentagon said it informed the Obama campaign on Monday that he and his Senate staff could visit Landstuhl, where wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated, but that no press would be allowed.

"Sen. Obama is more than welcome to visit Landstuhl or any other military hospital around the world," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "But he has to do so, just as any other senator has to do so, in his official capacity. It is not acceptable to do so as a candidate."

"In an election year," Morrell said, "I don’t believe that any candidate is allowed to visit a DOD facility with press."

He cited a Pentagon directive that activities "reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the [Defense Department] with a partisan political activity" should be avoided.

Morrell said the U.S. military was prepared to accommodate Obama’s traveling press and campaign staff at the passenger terminal at Ramstein Air Base, the U.S. Air Force base in southern Germany where Obama’s plane had been cleared to land.

-- Michael Finnegan and Peter Spiegel

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