May 18th, 2010
03:10 PM ET

Blumenthal: I have 'misspoken' about Vietnam record

[Updated 3:52 p.m.]

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" and amounted to little more than "a few misplaced words."

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.

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.

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Filed under: Politics
soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. masonishere

    I was in the air force for four years and never got out of the states during the viet nam war, so I guess you could say I was a viet nam ERA veteran, but never, never say I was in viet nam when I wasn't. What a jerk. Anything to get the votes.

    May 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Michael Blum

    OFFICIAL RESPONSE TO PUBLIC STATEMENTS MADE BY A PERSON OR PERSONS APPEARING TO REPRESENT THE MARINE CORPS LEAGUE IN SUPPORT OF CONNECTICUT
    ATTORNEY GENERAL BLUMENTHAL

    The Marine Corps League categorically disassociates itself from any comments made by a person who spoke at a press conference today in defense of Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal and referred to himself as a member of the Marine Corps League several times, giving the impression that his statements were representative of the Marine Corps League’s position on the matter.

    The National Bylaws of the Marine Corps League clearly state, in part: “The Marine Corps League shall never take part in any labor or management dispute or issue, and it shall be ever non-sectarian, non-political, and non-partisan; nor shall it be used as a medium of political ambition or preferment”.

    Whether or not the politician misspoke or distorted his military background is a matter for the citizens of his state to decide. The Marine Corps League has not authorized any of its members to make a public statement on this issue in that doing so would violate our covenants.
    -National Executive Director

    May 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. huxley

    Well put ARMY BRAT . I know personally 5 men who never came back . One that did would have been better not have .I can't stand people who pretend to be what they NEVER will be .

    May 19, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mal

    5 military deferments and finally lands a coveter "reserve" slot in Washington? Hmmm sounds like some behind the scenes influences at work – typical politician! The reserves were never called to fight in Viet-Nam. Sounds like someone else who maneuvered to land a cushy position in the Air Force reserve after bumping off a lot of folks ahead of him. We need to bring back the draft! All citizens should serve their country in uniform for a few years!!

    May 19, 2010 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. huxley

    The guy looks like a weasel . Look at him . He was probably beaten up every day at recess when he was a little p-k. I know I'd tear him apart.

    May 19, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • hillbilleter

      Huxley, admitting you were a schoolyard bully explains a lot. It also makes me wonder how you escaped being bushwhacked by more creative kids. We have too many bullies in the schools as it is without some Bluto bragging about it. Your encouragement of this behavior could get some bully killed by beaten-down kids who, nowadays, bring guns to resolve fistfights when the schools fail them.

      May 19, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kristy Howard-Clark

    Oh no !!! A politician lied !!! I am so shocked !!! NOT !!!

    May 19, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chris Anderson

    I served in the military from 1969 to 1973. I NEVER once told anyone I served in Viet Nam. There is NO way you could ever make that mistake. I am a veteran of the Viet Nam era. If someone asks me what Viet Nam was like, I have always corrected them immediately and said I did not serve in Viet Nam, I was in a support capacity. One of the duties I did have was to be in the Honor Guard and I carried far too many caskets and fired my rifle at too many cemeteries to ever say I was in the war zone. How disrespectful this politician is to say he "mis-spoke". There is no excuse to have said it and no excuse not to have corrected himself after the fact. Sad.

    May 19, 2010 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian H

      Mr. Anderson, thank you for your service. God Bless You.

      May 19, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. Brian H

    Does anybody know how to find out if this guy is a member of the VFW. As a Life Member of the VFW this veteran does not qualify fof the VFW guidelines. If he is a member he should not be. How can I find out. Email me at brianh724@yahoo.com

    May 19, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bob Meredith

    Mr. Blumenthal is less than truthful. How can someone misspeak about military service? His record is perfectly clear, and his staff behaved poorly as well for not correcting the record for incorrect statements published by local newspapers. There is no plausable excuse for allowing those pieces to stand as published by Mr. Blumenthal or his staff. A correction requested by the political organization would have painted a more positive perception honesty of Mr. Blumenthal. In addition, the reporting appears to be shoddy. Did anyone conduct a fact check on the public official? Lastly, the democratic party supporty Mr. Blumenthal. So the same question; did anyone do a background check? or was winning the driving force? Shame on the political organization, the press and the party.

    May 19, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. DB Cooper

    Vietnam era. I was a Vietnam era veteran although I was never in Vietnam. I would never say I was in Vietnam. How can anyone misspeak about being in Vietnam? During the Vietnam era being in the reserves was for weenies trying to avoid Vietnam. Nowadays the reserves are bearing the brunt of the fighting, but back then–not hardly. I would never brag about being in the reserves back then. I enlisted in the regular Army in 1971 and stayed 22 years, but I was never in Vietnam.

    May 19, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dustndawind

    NO! You coward. YOU LIED!

    May 19, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. The Guy

    CNN, all you guys, Bush bashers, Michael Jackson die hards.....all of you rock!!! Oops I misspoke. My bad.

    May 19, 2010 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. joc

    If I still lived in Ct I still would not care, I served and worked with Reserve during the Gulf Wars and my son is Semper Fi. With that said so what if he didn't correct a few mis-reported stories; what happened to all the good that man has done for Connecticut. I do not vote along party lines and think majority of the old regime should be tossed out on their arzes. While he might have asked for deferments I was scared as crap when I was deployed and if offered a deferment I sure would have taken it. AG Blumenthal has done wonders for CT, and thats what counts not what happened 3 decades ago.

    May 19, 2010 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
    • joc

      Just a quick clarification I was Active Duty Army and after my first enlistment I joined Active Duty USAF until I retired. If that has any bearing to those who have no idea what good that man has done for CT.

      May 19, 2010 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  14. MRC

    Anyone who has ever worn the uniform of any of our service branches knows that you do not lie or "misspeak" about your service, especially with regard to being in a war zone. It's speaks to your integrity. Combat service recognition is reserved for those serving in the war zone, and every soldier, sailor, airman, marine knows that.

    May 19, 2010 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. John F. Kerry

    Senator...er, Mr. Blumenthal isn't lying. We were together on the Mekong smoking crack during the War.

    May 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
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