May 18th, 2010
02:59 PM ET
12 years ago

Blumenthal: 'I have misspoken' about Vietnam record

(CNN) - Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal acknowledged Tuesday that he has not always accurately described his military service during the Vietnam War - a decades-old biographical question that is suddenly threatening to derail his frontrunner's campaign for the U.S. Senate.

"On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service and I regret that and I take full responsibility," Blumenthal said while surrounded by Vietnam veterans at a news conference in West Hartford. "But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.

"I served in the United States Marines Corps Reserve and I am proud of it," he said. Any mischaracterization was "absolutely unintentional."

A New York Times story released earlier in the week alleges that Blumenthal, a Democrat, lied about serving in Vietnam. The story says Blumenthal never served in that war, even though the candidate has claimed he
did in several speeches before veterans groups and military families.

It states that Blumenthal obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war. In 1970, the New York Times says, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve and landed a coveted spot in a unit in Washington.

The story also claims that it appears Blumenthal did nothing to correct numerous media profiles that described him as a Vietnam veteran.

Blumenthal ripped into the Times story, saying that there is "virtually no mention in that article" of the six years he spent in the Marine Reserve. The story "denigrates" service in the Reserve, he argued, and wrongly implies that he used special favors to get into it.

"I looked (the Reserve) up in a phone book," he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the point man for Democratic Senate campaign efforts this year, sought to downplay the story, saying Tuesday that Blumenthal "has been an incredible advocate for veterans."

"I think he's corrected the record in the past," Menendez said. "And I think his actions as it relates to standing up for veterans over a long period of time speaks volumes of where his heart and his actions are."

Menendez said Democratic leaders will continue to back Blumenthal's bid to fill the seat held by retiring Sen. Chris Dodd. Dodd himself said Tuesday that Bloomberg is "the most honorable of people."

"My support for him is unwavering," Dodd added.

Blumenthal's political opponents, however, were quick to go on the attack.

"Mr. Blumenthal owes the people of Connecticut, and particularly its veterans, a thorough explanation for the very serious questions that have been raised over what appears to be a long history of dishonest statements," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.

The campaign for Republican candidate Linda McMahon claimed credit Tuesday morning for giving the New York Times a video of a speech in Norwalk, Connecticut, in which Blumenthal allegedly said he served in Vietnam.

Republican candidate Rob Simmons released a statement Monday night saying he was "deeply troubled" by the allegations.

"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," he said.

One of the sources in the New York Times story, however, said Tuesday that she had been misquoted in the article.

Jean Risley, who chairs the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial Inc., was mentioned in the story as describing Blumenthal's comments at the dedication of the Connecticut memorial: "He said, 'When we came back, we were spat on; we couldn't wear our uniforms.'"

The story went on to say that Risley "later telephoned the reporter to say she checked into Mr. Blumenthal's military background and learned that he had not, in fact, served in Vietnam."

Risley said, however, that Blumenthal never told her he went to Vietnam. "I never heard him say that," she said. "He wasn't referring to himself."

She characterized Blumenthal's comments as descriptive of Vietnam veterans as a group rather than any single person's individual experience, including his own.

"He did misquote me," she said of the Times reporter. "They added stuff I didn't say. I never checked into Blumenthal's military background."

Risley later appeared at Blumenthal's news conference, repeating her assertion that she "never once heard him say" that he had served in Vietnam. But "I did hear him say how passionately he felt about our veterans and how we had to honor them," she said.

Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general for the past two decades, announced his candidacy January 6, hours after Dodd, a five-term senator, announced that he would not run for re-election in November. Dodd had been considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010.

A Quinnipiac University survey conducted in March indicated that Blumenthal was up by more than 2-to-1 margins over all three of his possible Republican opponents.

The Connecticut Democratic Party's nominating convention begins in Hartford on Friday.

Updated: 4:16 p.m.

- CNN's Ted Barrett, Alan Silverleib and Allan Chernoff contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2010 • Connecticut • Popular Posts • Richard Blumenthal
soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Louis

    ***A politician who doesn't lie, now THAT would be news.

    May 18, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  2. Marc Gerber

    As long as you're lying about your service to your country, Mr. Blumenthal, why not just say you've already been a U.S. Senator and let an honest person serve their country in truth.

    May 18, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  3. Ken in NC

    He caught so much hell at PI that he probably thought he was in Nam.

    May 18, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  4. jeff jackson, alabama

    Ever notice how we voters occassionally
    But the people we vote for only misuse
    the truth or MIS SPEAK !!!

    May 18, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. Charlie in Maine

    OH maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan. I thought we could count on at least one Democratic Senator from Conn. but I guess we will have to settle for one more GOPer.

    May 18, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  6. John

    I'm a Democrat and a USAF vet. I'll be honest that while I did a 5 month tour in Baghdad at the Baghdad International Airport, and a 6 month tour in Saudi Arabia, I never did active combat operations. People were shooting at me but they weren't aiming real well, just tossing rockets and mortars over the fence. Not with any determination or frequency. I get uncomfortable referring to myself as an Iraq war veteran, because while it's absolutely true, there's still a lot of folks who had it a lot harder and a lot more dangerous then I did, and my relative safety in Baghdad was because of what they were doing.

    So my sympathy cup for this clown is dry. He can lose, and the Democrats deserve to lose the seat he was running for just like they deserve to lose the Senate seat in Illinois which got handed to a corrupt politician by a corrupt politician. I'm a Democrat, but if my "team" is screwing up, then it's our duty as voters to punish them for it.

    May 18, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  7. Tom

    vince May 18th, 2010 3:39 pm ET

    I wish, as usual, that you guys would please stick to facts and not speculation, twisting of information and purposfully ommitting clarifying info which is readily available. Asise from Mr. Blumenthal's actual misrepresentation and the foul odor that that represents, do not diregard that most of what he said is factually true. Look at Wikepedia definition and explanation of Vietnam-era veteran...

    Amazing... He totally misrepresented himself. He was trying to portray himself as a veteran in the classic sense of the word not the Wikepedia version... (Another chuckle that you tried to use that as a valid reference.)

    What you have just written is a perfect example of what is wrong with politics today. Twisting and spinning words until they say what you want them to.

    May 18, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. hayden zeke

    Maybe he should have said he reported to National Guard duty in Alabama, all the Republicans bought that whopper.

    May 18, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. Hugo

    Let's see.....

    Democrats Republicans AMERICAN CITIZENS

    20 5 0

    May 18, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  10. Greg Pottstown PA

    Pam, Eugene, OR May 18th, 2010 4:10 pm ET

    I think it is pretty funny that FAUX news, Limbaugh and Hannity are all over this story but not one word about a GOP Congessman announcing his retirememnt due to an extramarital affair.______________________

    You must be blind. It is one of the top stories on the fox web site. good job trying to change the subject.

    It is always so funny to me that when a civilian gets caught not telling the truth we call it a lie when it is a candidate for office they misspoke.
    what a joke. was he unclear about weather or not he was getting shot at in another country or can he not hear the words coming out of his own mouth.

    May 18, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  11. John

    I bet if you ask any Vietnam veteran they will tell you the difference between a Vietnam veteran and a Vietnam ERA veteran is not just mispeaking... Worlds of difference here.

    May 18, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  12. SammyD

    The lying democrat should step aside like the unfaithful republican.

    May 18, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  13. Tommy Young

    Blumenthal joined the Marine Reserves. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard. What is the difference? You can argue that both of them joined because those units had little chance of being deployed to Vietnam. That makes no difference to me. They both joined voluntarily and I say good for them. My problem is with Blumenthal leading people to believe he was actually in Vietnam.

    May 18, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  14. Kaptkarl

    I guess he served on a swift boat with Kerry, while Clinton wasn't having sex with Monica

    May 18, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  15. jimg pa

    As a Democrat who had great hopes for Mr. Blumenthal I can only say this...You have no chance in hell tyo win now in November so for the sake of your country and your party please say goodbye..Please!!!

    May 18, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. Tom in Millstadt

    I am a life long, independent democrat, but I am sick and tired of liars on both sides of the aisle. I would rather his opponent won that have another liar in Congress.

    May 18, 2010 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  17. SJC

    I never vote Republican. Given that, this jerk should withdraw. How stupid can one be as to lie about his military record? Politians from both the Democratic Party and Republican Cult make me sick.

    May 18, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  18. Kaori

    Why so cowardly about it. Don't say "misspoke" Say "I LIED".

    May 18, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  19. Hendrik

    You did not misspeak, you sorry liar. I am a Democrat and will vote for any Democrat. If I lived in your state I would not vote for you. You begin to sound like a Republican. You are a sorry excuse for a politician.

    May 18, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  20. Greg Pottstown PA

    How can you tell that a dem is lying?
    His lips are moving.
    How can you tell when a republican lied?
    The media actually covers it.

    May 18, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  21. Right Leaning Independent

    Misspoken = Lied!

    May 18, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  22. Brenda

    You LIED, you did not misspeak.

    This is pathetic.

    And, for the Dems who still support this man, shame on you.

    May 18, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  23. Wisconsinite

    He needs to go away. Period. Enough with the "misspoken" crap .. .. doesn't matter if it's a Republican or a Democrat, a liar is a liar and they need to go away!

    May 18, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
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