Connecticut state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, his campaign for an open Senate seat suddenly put in jeopardy following a New York Times article questioning the honesty of his statements about his military service, fired back this afternoon.
At a news conference held at a VFW hall in West Hartford and flanked by veterans who support his candidacy, Blumenthal, the favorite in both the Democratic primary and general election for the seat of retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd (D), conceded that he had misspoken in the past when he said he served in Vietnam, but said it was "absolutely unintentional'' and "totally unintentional":
"On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that. But I will not allow anyone to take a few missplaced words and impugn my record of service to my country. I served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, and I am proud of it."
The Times story quoted him on the ocassions where he said, or implied, that he served in Vietnam:
What is striking about Mr. Blumenthal's record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans' ceremonies or other patriotic events.
Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar.
At the news conference, Blumenthal talked about what he has done on behalf of veterans and defended his service in the Marine Corps reserves. And he lashed out at the Times story:
"The article denigrates service in the reserves. ... It really implies there were some special favors or treatment involved."
The veterans who were with him were quoted in the Hartford Courant as defending Blumenthal's record on behalf of veterans. But that, to the best of my knowledge, was never in any dispute; it was always about his comments about his own military service.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, blogging at The Plum Line, writes that national Democrats "appear to be standing firmly behind" Blumenthal, "despite clear evidence he repeatedly misled voters about his military record":
I've got a copy of the talking points that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already distributing to outside surrogates, instructing them on how to talk about the Blumenthal mess.
The strategy is twofold: Acknowledge Blumenthal has made mistakes while stressing the "hundreds" of times he's discussed his record. And hammer potential GOP opponent Linda McMahon's campaign for planting the story.
(On Monday evening, after the Times story came out but before Blumenthal's press conference today, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, on CNN, said Blumenthal's statements on Vietnam service were "indefensible" and a "catastrophic mistake.")
Back to the Washington Post blog: Regarding the examples of Blumenthal "clearly misleading about his record" — which Sargent says is "pretty damning" — he goes on to write:
National Dems think he'll survive this, because he has also repeatedly been accurate in representing his record. They hope this will persuade people to see his previous quotes as screw ups, rather than deliberate attempts to mislead. Indeed, don't be surprised if more examples of him accurately discussing his record surface before long
It goes to show that people who are devoted to winning elections are more willing to overlook your transgressions if you hold a 30-point lead in the polls.
Philip Klein, blogging in The American Spectator, is more damning, calling it "one of the most shameless political performances since the days of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal":
When asked directly by a reporter whether he would apologize, his supporters in the room shouted "Noooooo!" and he refused. Instead, he reiterated that he "regrets" misspeaking.
This sort of lawyerly posturing created a lot of fodder for late night comics during the Clinton era, but politically speaking, it worked, and he was able to survive numerous scandals. We'll have to see if Connecticut voters are as forgiving of Blumenthal after this laughable performance.
Connecticut Public Radio — member station WNPR — hosted a reader's forum on the Blumenthal story on its Web site, which can be seen here.
Merrick Alpert is a longshot challenger to Blumenthal for the Democratic nomination. His Web site hasn't been updated to address the Blumenthal brouhaha, but it does mention that Alpert served in Bosnia as an Air Force officer.
Silver lining for Blumenthal? The Connecticut Post's Brian Lockhart, suggesting that the fact that GOP hopeful Linda McMahon may have leaked the story to the Times may be more damaging to her campaign than Blumenthal's, blogs with this header: "Who's worse: A candidate who fudges military service or one who gloats about the story?" And Sam Stein, blogging in the Huffington Post, has a similar theme with a similar headline: "McMahon Misstep May Help Blumenthal Out Of Vietnam-Related Hole."
Also running: former Rep. Rob Simmons (R).