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Hartford - Attorney General Richard Blumenthal Tuesday acknowledged having “misplaced words” in 2008 when describing his service during the Vietnam War, but forcefully denied that he had intentionally misled voters into thinking he saw foreign combat.
Blumenthal, who served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam War, responded to a report first published Monday that said he had repeatedly misstated his combat record in some of his many appearances before veterans groups.
The report had enlivened Blumenthal’s Republican and Democratic opponents for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Christopher Dodd, and for nearly 24 hours shaken a campaign that has been the front-runner in all public polling on the race.
Appearing at the Hannon-Hatch VFW post in West Hartford, with at least 20 veterans gathered behind him on the podium, Blumenthal acknowledge past misstatements of his record.
“Now on a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that, and I take full responsibility,” Blumenthal said. “But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”
The attorney general also flatly denied the Times’ suggestion that he had received draft deferments that would have been hard for others to obtain before eventually enlisting in the reserves. There were “no special favors, no privileges involved,” he said.
The Times report centered on a tape of Blumenthal speaking at an event honoring veterans in Norwalk in 2008 in which he referred to “the days that I served in Vietnam” -- an impossibility because the attorney general never served overseas.
Blumenthal over the years has frequently invoked his service in the reserves during the Vietnam era when appearing at ceremonies honoring troops or urging better support for veterans at home. But he has usually specified that his service was in the Marine Corps Reserve, or, as in a primary debate with Democratic challenger Merrick Alpert in March, said explicitly that he did not go to Vietnam.
The remarks in Norwalk, and another 2003 comment that suggested Blumenthal had been among those who “returned home” from Vietnam, were rare errors among hundreds of speeches he has given before veterans groups, Blumenthal and the veterans who joined him on Tuesday said.
The two leading Republican challengers for the Senate seat, former Congressman Rob Simmons and former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, took starkly different routes to criticize Blumenthal on Tuesday.
Rob Simmons, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army and the CIA, staged a press conference on the North Steps of the Capitol before Blumenthal’s much anticipated press conference, and later criticized the attorney general for not issuing a formal apology to veterans of the Vietnam War.
“Too many people have sacrificed too much to have their valor stolen in this way,” Simmons said.
Simmons, who has appeared with Blumenthal at numerous events honoring troops and the military, said he did not recall ever hearing Blumenthal assert that he’d fought in Vietnam. On the contrary, Simmons said, he has long had an accurate understanding of Blumenthal’s experience during the Vietnam war years: the future attorney general served in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Meanwhile, Simmons used much of the time in his press conference to renew attacks on McMahon’s record, saying that the former wrestling executive had to answer questions of “character.” Those included McMahon’s decision in 1989 to alert the target of a probe into illegal distribution of steroids that he was under investigation by the federal government, and inaccurate information she provided to the state government after her appointment to the State Board of Education in 2009.
McMahon’s campaign, meanwhile, was largely quiet. On Monday night, after the Times story was published, McMahon’s staff had taken credit for leaking the tape of Blumenthal’s 2008 remarks to the media, republishing a blog post asserting as much by the commentator and former Republican politician Kevin Rennie on the campaign Web site. A McMahon staffer also confirmed that the campaign had leaked the tape to the Associated Press.
But on Tuesday, the Rennie blog post had vanished from the McMahon website.
“We’re not commenting any further on our research except to say that the substance of this report is far more important than the process at this point,” said Ed Patru, a McMahon spokesman.
Meanwhile, Democrats and the veterans who assembled behind Blumenthal on Tuesday were rallying behind the candidate.