Obama camp blasts Clinton for 'Obama in Muslim garb' photo
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday February 25, 2008

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UPDATE: Prove we distributed photo, Clinton camp challenges; Wolfson accuses Obama camp of using photo 'to distract and divide'

When he toured several African nations 18 months ago as his presidential campaign was gearing up, Sen. Barack Obama engaged in the time-honored practice of American politicians visiting foreign countries: he was photographed wearing local garb.

The photograph, taken in the summer of 2006, re-emerged Monday in this year's hotly contested presidential campaign, after a report that staffers working for Hillary Clinton sent reporters the photo, which shows Obama wearing a turban and native Kenyan clothing.

Clinton campaign manager Howard Wolfson seemed frustrated with the accusation that the campaign was orchestrating the release of the photo. Speaking with reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon, Wolfson said he did not know who e-mailed the photo to the Drudge Report, and he accused Obama of using the photo to distract from the campaign.

"If you have any original reporting to suggest that someone in the campaign sent this e-mail let me know," Wolfson told NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell, who was asking about the photo flap.

"Here's what I'd say," he continued, "I've never seen that picture before, I'm not aware that anyone here has, I'm not aware that anyone sent any such e-mail."

Noting that the campaign has more than 700 staffers, Wolfson would not categorically deny that the photo came to Drudge's attention from within Clinton's campaign. But he implied that the Web site should not be taken at face value, and said the campaign would not be investigating the matter further.

"If you have done any independent reporting that unearths an e-mail let me know," Wolfson told another reporter. "I'm not in a position to ask 700 people to come in and answer questions about it."

Obama's top advisers were quick to blast what it called an underhanded campaign tactic from Clinton. Around 9:30 a.m., soon after Drudge posted the photo, Obama's campaign released a statement.

“On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in an e-mail sent to RAW STORY and other news outlets Monday morning.

Three Obama foreign policy advisers participated in a conference call with reporters Monday in advance of an anticipated Clinton speech outlining her foreign policy goals. All criticized her campaign for distributing the photo.

"It is unfortunate ... that her campaign would be involved in putting out a photograph that is in its very nature designed to be divisive," said Susan Rice, an Obama adviser and fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The advisers -- Rice, Gen. Jonathon “Scott” Gration and Richard Danzig -- noted that in the photo Obama is simply accepting a gift from one of his hosts, and he tried it on just like any politician visiting a foreign country would.

"He was someone who accepted a gift of friendship in a way that we should expect our president to," Gration said.

Danzig said distributing the photo was clearly an attempt to have voters "judge a book by its cover" and he said the campaign's "grasping" at such at attack represented its lack of substantive critiques against Obam.

The photo appeared Monday morning on The Drudge Report, which alleged it was circulated by Clinton staffers.

"Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?" questioned one campaign staffer, in an email obtained by the DRUDGE REPORT.

Drudge reminded readers that politicians commonly dress according to the country they're visiting and provided a handy illustration, including Sen. Clinton, President Bush and former President Bill Clinton.

Politico's Mike Allen reported, "The Clinton campaign did not deny the charge, but did not comment further."

Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams tried to turn the tables on Obama's campaign Monday, releasing a blistering statement that did little to disabuse the notion Clinton's staffers were behind the photo's distribution.

“If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely," Williams wrote in an e-mail to reporters. "This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry. We will not be distracted.”

Another Clinton aide tells Politico the supposed staffer's lament to Drudge is more a complaint about press coverage than an attempt to push an attack on Obama.

“We have over 700 people on staff. I don’t know if someone on our staff sent it out or not," spokesman Mo Elleithee said. “If someone on our staff makes the point that we are treated differently by the press than Sen. Obama, we agree with that sentiment. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with this photo. Sen. Clinton has herself, while traveling abroad, dressed in traditional, local dress. And there’s nothing divisive about that."

Regardless of whether the latest photo was an organized assault on Clinton's behalf, her campaign already is under fire for trying to link Obama with anti-war radicals from the Vietnam era. Earlier in the campaign members of Clinton's campaign staff in Iowa had to resign after forwarding an e-mail that falsely claimed Obama was a Muslim.

ABC News political tip sheet The Note says the photo flap could be a result of "frustration" from the Clinton team, but it notes there is some question over whether her team distributed the photo:

(If it really is the work of someone associated with the Clinton campaign, it has atypical fingerprints all over it -- and it's an interesting call on a day where Clinton is giving a "major" speech on foreign policy.)

MSNBC's First Read notes the photo's appearance could mark an increase in attacks on Obama.

Toss in the blind photo Drudge attack of Obama today showing him doing what many American statesman do when overseas -- dress in local garb -- and it looks like this could be the week that the kitchen sink is tossed at Obama. Will Clinton be asked at her foreign policy speech today if her campaign is circulating this photo?

Fox News quickly noted the photo as did several conservative blogs.

The photo apparently first appeared in this report on Obama's 2006 trip from an African news agency.

Supermarket tabloid The National Examiner reportedly ran the photo in its Feb. 4 issue. The photo appeared on right-wing message board Free Republic and conservative blog Sweetness & Light before Drudge picked it up. At least one Freeper recognized the need for wider distribution.

"Good Job," a user on Free Republic said Sunday to the person who posted the tabloid pic. "[I]t needs to get to Drudge,M.Malkin,Debbie Schussel etc....I want to see his explanation on this."