Blumenthal says he ‘misspoke’ about military service

WEST HARTFORD – In a nationally-televised news conference, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal denied Tuesday that he lied about his military service or pulled strings to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.

Blumenthal, who was a stateside Marine Corps reservist during the war, acknowledged that he “misspoke” in 2008 when he told an audience in Norwalk, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”

“I may have misspoken — I did misspeak — on a few occasions out of hundreds that I’ve attended, whether events or ceremonies,” said Blumenthal, a U.S. Senate candidate whose official biography correctly lists his service as a reservist.

Blumenthal was responding a New York Times story that described him as frequently leaving audiences with the impression he served in Vietnam and, on two occasions, explicitly referring to being in or coming home from Vietnam.

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Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is flanked by veterans as he denies lying about his military service (Jacqueline Rabe)

He spoke on stage at a VFW Post, surrounded by veterans, at a hastily arranged press conference to limit damage from the story as he is preparing to accept the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate at a convention Friday.

A composed Blumenthal, facing a bank of more than a dozen television cameras, offered an expression of regret, but no apology.

“I will not allow anyone to take a few of those misplaced words and impugn my record of service,” Blumenthal said. “I regret that I misspoke on those occasions. I take full responsibility for it.”

He took issue with The Times’ suggestion of special treatment. The paper said Blumenthal “landed a coveted spot” in Reserves as the last of his five draft deferments was in jeopardy, exposing him to the draft while he was working in the White House for presidential counselor Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

“You want to know how I got into the Marine Corps Reserves? I looked them up in the phone book. No special help. No special privileges. I joined the Reserves by picking up a phone and signing up,” Blumenthal said, reading from a text.

Rob Simmons, a former congressman and decorated Vietnam veteran seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, said Blumenthal’s explanation was inadequate.

“I am unsatisfied with Attorney General Blumenthal’s comments. While I’m not surprised that he ‘regrets’ that his misstatements have been called to the public’s attention, what he owes is an apology to the veterans, who served and sacrificed in Vietnam,” Simmons said.

But Simmons also supported Blumenthal on one point: He said he never was under the misimpression that Blumenthal had served in Vietnam. It was the same point made by Blumenthal’s supporters at the VFW. All described hearing him always precisely note that he had been in the Reserves, not on active duty in Vietnam.

About the same time Blumenthal spoke, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in Washington released a list of eight news accounts dating back to 2002 in which Blumenthal accurately characterized his service as a Marine reservist.

“He has always been completely straightforward about his honorable service in the Marine Corps Reserve,” Peter Galgano of the Marine Corps League of Connecticut said at the news conference. “It is outrageous for anyone to take one quote where he misspoke and attack him on it.”

Jean Risley, the sister of an Army medic killed in Vietnam and the organizer of an effort to build a Vietnam Memorial in Connecticut, said she has heard Blumenthal speak passionately about the war and veterans.

“I have heard him speak many times of his service in the Marine Reserves, and in all that time I never once heard that he was in Vietnam,” she said.

The campaign of Simmons’ rival for the GOP nomination, Linda McMahon, fell silent.

McMahon’s communications director, Ed Patru, told The Mirror on Monday night that the campaign had found and forwarded to The Times a video of Blumenthal’s Norwalk speech in 2008.

On Tuesday, after a day of criticism about its role in the story, the McMahon forces seemed to leave the field, at least temporarily.

McMahon’s campaign web page late Monday evening posted, “In Case You Missed It: McMahon Strikes Blumenthal In NYT Article.”

The post references a blog by Kevin Rennie, a Hartford Courant columnist and former Republican legislator, that credited the McMahon campaign with two months of “deep, persistent research by Republican Linda McMahon’s Senate Campaign. It gave the explosive Norwalk video recording to The Times.”

That post has since been taken down from her web site, but the full-length video of almost 6 minutes, compared to the 58-second clip on The Times’ site, still is posted on her campaign’s You Tube Channel. In that same speech, Blumenthal did say he “served in the military during the Vietnam era.”

Blumenthal had no extensive comment on McMahon’s involvement, saying only, “I think the timing speaks for itself.”