Blumenthal Defends Vietnam-Era Service

Revelations about one candidate's military past could shake up the Senate race in Connecticut. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and the state's attorney general, is campaigning for the seat opening up with the retirement of Christopher Dodd. A report in The New York Times says that while Blumenthal has portrayed himself as having served in Vietnam — he never actually did. Raymond Hernandez wrote the story, and talks with Lynn Neary.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Revelations about one candidate's military past could shake up the Senate race in Connecticut. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and the state's attorney general, is campaigning for the seat that is opening up with the retirement of Christopher Dodd. Blumenthal has been in politics for 30 years and recent polls have him leading the top Republican challenger.

But a New York Times story this morning reports that while Blumenthal has portrayed himself as having served in Vietnam - he never actually did. Reporter Raymond Hernandez wrote the story and we have him on the line.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. RAYMOND HERNANDEZ (Reporter): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

NEARY: Let's start by hearing from Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal himself. You dug up this tape of him speaking to veterans and senior citizens two years ago. Let's listen to it.

Attorney General RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Connecticut): We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam, 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.

NEARY: So is that a good example of the way Blumenthal has portrayed his military service over the years?

Mr. HERNANDEZ: I mean, the thrust of my story is that he's made statements that were flatly untrue, like the one you just heard. And then there were statements that were ambiguous enough that it left the impression that, you know, he had, in fact, served in Vietnam when he didn't.

NEARY: So what is the truth of his military service?

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Well, the truth is something that we put together by looking at his resume, and more important, obtaining his military records through Freedom of Information Act.

And what those records show is that, far from actually serving in Vietnam, he received a series of deferments that enabled him to avoid going to war and attend Harvard for four years, travel to London on a fellowship, come back to the States and work for Catherine Grimm, the legendary publisher of the Washington Post, as her special assistant.

NEARY: He did serve in the Marine Reserves; is that right?

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Of all - at the very end, after all this, he - when one of his deferments seemed to be in jeopardy - and I mean the type of deferment he had, not his in particular, but the type of deferment seemed to be in jeopardy - he then joined the Marine Reserves, which was considered, at the time - the Reserves in general - a haven for those trying to avoid the war.

NEARY: Yeah. Early to tell, but is this likely to affect the race?

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Well, look, it is early to tell, but I'll say this. Last night, as soon as our story hit the Times website, the Republicans came out swinging. They were clearly looking to put pressure on Blumenthal, paint him in - just in really dark, dark terms. And...

NEARY: So this is another race we're all going to be watching closely to see what happens. Thanks so much.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I think we all need to stay tuned.

NEARY: Thanks so much.

Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is NPR News.

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