The New York Times late Monday reported that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal falsely described himself on at least two occasions as a Vietnam veteran, instantly roiling his campaign for the U.S. Senate four days before he is set to accept the Democratic nomination at a state convention.
Blumenthal frequently and accurately refers to his stateside service as a Marine reservist during the Vietnam War, but The Times found him twice referring to having served in Vietnam and also described him as the beneficiary of hard-to-get draft deferments.
“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Blumenthal told veterans and others in Norwalk in March 2008, according to The Times, which posted a video of the speech. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it – Afghanistan or Iraq – we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”
The campaign of Republican Linda McMahon acknowledged finding and providing the video.
“We got our hands on it,” said Ed Patru, McMahon’s director of communications.
Patru declined to say from where the tape was obtained or when the campaign gave it to The Times.
In 2003, according to the Times, Blumenthal addressed a rally in Bridgeport, “where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. ‘When we returned, we saw nothing like this,’ Mr. Blumenthal said. ‘Let us do better by this generation of men and women.’ “
Blumenthal’s campaign manager, Mindy Myers, called the story “an outrageous distortion of Dick Blumenthal’s record of service. Unlike many of his peers, Dick Blumenthal voluntarily joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1970 and served for six months in Parris Island, S.C., and six years in the reserves. He received no special treatment from anyone.
“Dick has a long record of standing up for veterans. Tomorrow, veterans will be standing up with Dick.”
Blumenthal’s campaign will launch its defense with a news conference with Connecticut veterans, details to be announced.
Myers’ statement did not address the two occasions when The Times says Blumenthal described himself as serving in Vietnam.
Marla Romash, a media adviser to the campaign, said later that Blumenthal simply misspoke on those occasions.
“Dick Blumenthal said today he misspoke. He has attended thousand of these events and is very careful out of respect for the veterans who served in Vietnam to talk about his service in the Marine Corps Reserve,” said Romash, who was a campaign spokesman for Joseph I. Lieberman in 1988 and later worked for Vice President Al Gore.
The Times also described Blumenthal as obtaining five draft deferments, then enlisting in the Reserves only when he faced the draft: “In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve, landing a coveted spot in a unit in Washington, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. The unit conducted part-time drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.”
The story was quickly circulated without comment by the campaign of McMahon, one of Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. In an interview, Patru acknowledged that the campaign helped generate the story with its research on Blumenthal’s record.
“It has been increasingly clear to us as the weeks went on and we sifted the records that there was a troubling disconnect between the truth and his carefully cultivated image,” Patru said.
Rob Simmons, a Republican candidate who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, urged Blumenthal to quickly address the story:
“As someone who served, I respect Richard Blumenthal for wearing the uniform, but I am deeply troubled by allegations that he has misrepresented his service. Too many have sacrificed too much to have their valor stolen in this way. I hope Mr. Blumenthal steps forward and forthrightly addresses the questions that have arisen about this matter.”
Simmons, the winner of two Bronze Stars during his 19 months of service in Vietnam, could be the short-term beneficiary of the story. He is struggling to win the convention endorsement in the face of McMahon’s heavy media buys, part of her $50 million, self-funded campaign.
Blumenthal also faces token opposition for the Democratic nomination from Merrick Alpert, who is a former Air National Guard member who served in Bosnia.
Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, who was unaware of the story until reached by The Mirror, had no immediate comment.
Her Republican counterpart, Chris Healy, said that Blumenthal and the Democrats have difficult questions to answer.
“I think that’s for Dick Blumenthal and the Democratic Party to determine: Do they want to nominate a liar?” Healy said. “It’s beyond lying. It’s psychopathic. I mean that seriously.”
Healy said it will be difficult for Blumenthal, an accomplished lawyer who typically chooses his words with great care, to pass off the quotes as misstatements.
One defense, however, is likely to be his long record of accurately referring to his military record. This is not, even as described by the Times, the case of a lifelong fabulist suddenly unmasked. Rather, he is accused of inaccurately describing his record at least twice and leaving a misimpression several other times.
The only reference to his military record on his campaign web site is the second-to-last sentence of his bio: “He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, honorably discharged as sergeant.”
“The best he’s got is he only lied some of the time,” Healy said.