Critics weigh Blumenthal's words
"I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support."
The occasion was the Stamford Veterans Days parade: Nov. 9, 2008.
The speaker was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, as quoted by The Advocate.
A trove of potential bulletin board material was unearthed Tuesday by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers from its archives quoting the once seemingly unflappable U.S. Senate candidate on his military record, one that he has been accused of embellishing.
During a May 18, 2009, military board tribute to veterans in Shelton, Blumenthal was quoted by the Connecticut Post as saying, "When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered."
A year later at a Stratford Memorial Day event covered by the Post, Blumenthal dropped the "we" reference but didn't go out of his way to say that he never went to Vietnam.
"I am called general all the time in my role, but the highest rank I will ever have in life is as a sergeant in the United States Marines," said Blumenthal, who went on to comment how tough it was for veterans of the unpopular conflict to return to "taunts and jeers."
Blumenthal's critics claim that the Democrat's veiled references to serving in Vietnam, which the candidate himself qualified as rare and unintentional misstatements but now number at least five, establish a pattern of duplicity that calls his credibility into question.
"At one point I wanted to go up to him a couple of years ago and say, 'Hey Dick, you're giving the impression you were on the battlefield," said former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., "I thought that might come back to bite him."
Characterizing him as a friend of "high integrity," Shays said Blumenthal made it clear earlier in his career that he served in the Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam era but not in the war itself.
"He evolved from being pretty clear about his service to being somewhat nebulous about it and really giving a false impression about his service," Shays said.
A spokeswoman for Blumenthal, who was the subject of a New York Times report Tuesday suggesting that he lied about his military record, contested claims that Blumenthal duped the public.
"Like I said, he acknowledged that on a few occasions that he may have misspoke," said Maura Downes of the Blumenthal campaign. "He used the word in instead of during."
Downes said the solidarity shown by veterans who attended an afternoon news conference in West Hartford with Blumenthal, who said he regretted the errors and took responsibility for them, spoke volumes.
"Of the thousands of veterans and armed services events that he's done over the course of his 20-year career, if you ask the veterans who were standing there today, they will tell you he has always been honest about his service," Downes said.
A spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon, whose campaign took credit for planting the Times story, said Blumenthal cannot be trusted between his comments on his military service and decision to accept money from political action committees when he pledged not to do so on television.
"So clearly there is a pattern, typical of career politicians of saying one thing and doing another," said Ed Patru of the McMahon campaign.
Blumenthal's campaign says he never promised not to accept PAC money.
Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., who is battling McMahon for the GOP nomination and earned two Bronze Stars in Vietnam, called Blumenthal's explanation unacceptable and demanded an apology.
A 2002 profile by the Associated Press, which obtained Blumenthal's military records through a Freedom of Information Act request, reported that he never went to Vietnam or performed active duty.
Blumenthal insisted in the article that he did six months of active duty with the Marines, studying administration and was classified as an "Admin Man."
George Jepsen, a former state Democratic Party chairman who is running for Blumenthal's seat as attorney general, said the explanation offered by his political ally is entirely plausible.
"When you're out speaking night after night and you deliver nearly thousands of speeches, occasionally in the moment you're going to misspeak," Jepsen said. "It's entirely human. I don't think at any time did he deliberately or knowingly create the impression that he served in Vietnam."
Jepsen had choice words for McMahon, who is funding her entire campaign from her vast World Wrestling Entertainment fortune.
"This is what happens when you have an opponent who has spent $16 million and has the power to drag a rake over every public moment of your now 40 year career," Jepsen said.
Blumenthal is not the first Connecticut politician to face allegations that he exaggerated his military record.
In 1984, Robert Sorensen, a Democratic state representative from Meriden, said he had fought in Vietnam when he hadn't.
A message seeking comment from Sorensen was left at his home Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a Blumenthal ally, said politicians have to be extremely careful with their words.
"Dick Blumenthal is a good friend who proudly served his country in the Marine Reserves and the people of Connecticut as Attorney General," Himes said in a statement. "As elected officials, we owe it to the people we represent to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and I applaud Dick for taking full responsibility for any misstatements he made."
Staff writer Neil Vigdor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 203-625-4436.
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