From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube
ON PLANE EN ROUTE BERLIN TO PARIS -- In a briefing aboard the flight to Paris today, Robert Gibbs, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, came to the back of the plane at least three separate times to explain to reporters that the decision to cancel the senator's trip to Ramstein and Landstuhl came after word from the Pentagon that it would violate Defense Department regulations.
The impromptu briefing stemmed from confusion about two statements put out by the campaign -- one from Gibbs and the other from Gen. Scott Gration -- about the cancellation. Gibbs' statement had not mentioned the discussion with the Pentagon, while Gration's did.
"The statement that I sent out and the statement that Gen. Gration sent out are consistent in that what Gen. Gration learned from the Pentagon that the trip to Ramstein and Landstuhl will be viewed as a campaign stop," Gibbs said. "The decision that Sen. 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."
Gibbs explained it was the use of the campaign plane and staffers that would have violated the rules. "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," he said. "Given the information that we had received, Sen. 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."
He said campaign was aware that Obama would be criticized either way -- for going or for canceling -- by his rivals and he reminded reporters that Obama quietly visited wounded troops at Walter Reed a few weeks ago and did it quietly.
The view from the Pentagon
Did the Pentagon discourage Obama from visiting Landstuhl? "No," says Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman.
Did the Pentagon tell Senator Obama that it was inappropriate for him to visit because he is on a campaign trip? "No. That's inaccurate," Whitman said.
Was Obama's Senate office told that he and his Senate staff could visit the facility? "Absolutely."
"As a sitting United States senator, Obama obviously has an official interest in the well being of our service members and how the wounded are being treated," Whitman said, adding:"He is welcome to visit a military medical center any time that he wants to. As you all know, we do have certain policy guidelines for political campaigns and elections and what is appropriate and what's not appropriate in those situations," Whitman said. "The Pentagon did not tell the senator that he could not visit Landstuhl."
"If you are both a sitting senator and a political candidate when you are doing things like a visit to Landstuhl, you need to do it in your capacity as a sitting senator or you have to do it with the restrictions that apply," Whitman added. Those restrictions include the law that campaign events may not be conducted on a military installation.