Video mitigates Blumenthal remarks

Hartford - Attorney General Richard Blumenthal began a speech he gave to a group of senior citizens in 2008 by noting he had served in the U.S. Marine Corps "in the Vietnam era" - not, as he said moments later, in Vietnam itself.

The latter remark has triggered a firestorm of criticism locally and nationally, as The New York Times and Blumenthal's political opponents accused him of exaggerating his military record.

But those reports do not mention that Blumenthal accurately described his military service at the beginning of his address to residents at The Marvin, a nonprofit center in Norwalk that provides housing for the elderly and day care for children.

Blumenthal was one of an array of guest speakers at the March 2008 event at which residents were being honored for having made 1,000 felt blankets for use by wounded troops and military veterans, said Mary R. Windt, the organization's executive director.

At the very outset of Blumenthal's remarks, he describes himself as "someone who served in the military during the Vietnam era, in the Marine Corps," before going on to say that the efforts to support veterans of current American conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are in contrast to the disrespect shown to returning veterans during the Vietnam era.

In the video, Blumenthal also appears to differentiate himself from combat veterans near the end of his remarks, a section also not included in the video excerpt cited by his opponents, including Republicans Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon.

"I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for our veterans," the attorney general says in the video. "We wouldn't have those freedoms to say whatever we wish, worship as we please, if it weren't for those men and women who dedicated their lives to keeping our freedom."

Windt said Blumenthal had not spoken of himself during the event as a veteran of combat.

No big deal

"He wasn't making a big thing about himself," she said, adding that those present in the room, including residents of The Marvin and state officials such as Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and then-U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, didn't seem to notice the misstatement that has now landed Blumenthal in political peril. "He definitely said it, but it was taken out of context."

When a reporter visited The Marvin Wednesday morning, a member of the attorney general's staff, Kevin Mullane, was in Windt's office, listening to a copy of the recording. Mullane declined to speak on the record, but said he had visited out of personal interest, not on state or campaign time.

Windt said copies of a DVD made of the ceremony were presented to participants, including Blumenthal, Fedele, Shays and others, and were provided to residents of The Marvin and family members.

No news organization or campaign ever asked her for a copy of the full video, Windt said, and she was stunned to see the familiar backdrop and the footage of the attorney general she had shot two years before.

A spokeswoman for The New York Times defended the paper's account of Blumenthal's remarks in a statement, even as some online outlets, including the liberal-leaning Media Matters for America, criticized the Times for not including the full context of Blumenthal's statement.

Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said the paper had "uncovered Mr. Blumenthal's long and well-established pattern of misleading his constituents about his Vietnam War service," and added that Blumenthal should "be candid with his constituents about whether he went to Vietnam or not, since his official military records clearly indicate he did not."

McNulty declined to answer when asked whether the Times had seen the full version of Blumenthal's remarks before publishing its initial story, or simply the 44-second excerpt it linked to on Monday evening.

The same excerpt was published on the McMahon campaign's website, though the campaign has backed off its initial statements of taking credit for alerting the Times to Blumenthal's misstatements.

On Monday night, the McMahon campaign e-mailed to reporters a blog post by commentator Kevin Rennie, who wrote that the Times article "comes at the end of more than 2 months of deep, persistent research by Republican Linda McMahon's Senate campaign."

"It gave the explosive Norwalk video recording to The Times," the message read. "This is what comes of $16 million, a crack opposition research operation and an opponent who, in the words of the president Blumenthal worked for on a draft deferment, who gave them the sword."

Still 'ambiguous'

McMahon's campaign spokesman, Ed Patru, e-mailed reporters Wednesday night decrying what he called "Democratic Party pushback" on the Times story and arguing that Blumenthal's full remarks were "at best, ambiguous."

"Had he said, 'I served stateside in the military, during the Vietnam era,'" Patru wrote, "that would have been accurate.

"Dick Blumenthal has lost his credibility because he clearly made demonstrably false statements," he continued later in the e-mail. "But just because he made statements that were not demonstrably false doesn't mean he's been truthful and accurate and complete. That is the essence of what it means to mislead."

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, was one of the politicians who attended the 2008 reception where Blumenthal made his remarks. On Wednesday he corroborated Windt's account, saying that he had not interpreted Blumenthal's remarks as a claim to have served in-country in Vietnam.

"I don't recall people being taken aback at all," Duff said. "If you can recall, actually, during that part of the speech somebody's cell phone was ringing. I don't know if that was distraction at all.

"All I can say for me is that I've heard Dick Blumenthal give a number of speeches in relation to veterans and service to the country; it's been clear to me anyway that he served in the Marine Corps Reserves and that he did not go to Vietnam. And I've never had any personal sense that he was fighting over there, so whether he misspoke or whatever context it was in, it never appeared to me that he was misconstruing his service. I don't think he would need to."

But Simmons' campaign manager said the uncut version of Blumenthal's remarks changes nothing.

"He does not accurately state the nature of his service," Jim Barnett said. "By stating he was serving in the Vietnam era, he's stating a time-line of the time he served, not where he served."

Either way, Barnett said, Blumenthal "stood up on stage in front of 20 cameras and conceded the point yesterday."

The Simmons campaign has raised "many thousands" of dollars in contributions since the Blumenthal story broke, Barnett said, including from a Web video highlighting Simmons' military service and stating in bold letters that Blumenthal "lied" about his.

And they are eager for a chance to make the contrast of war records into a political argument in the fall.

"Just on the face of it, between having a genuine Vietnam veteran versus a fraudulent one, I think the case is very clear and the choice is very clear," Barnett said.

Republican Party delegates will endorse a Senate nominee during its convention Friday night.

t.mann@theday.com

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