Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Marine Corps reservist during the Vietnam War, wrongly claimed years ago that he “served in Vietnam” and once spoke of the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans “when we returned.” Those misstatements are fair game for his political opponents to criticize.
But President Donald Trump has stretched the facts about Blumenthal’s misstatements to absurd lengths.
Most recently, amid Blumenthal’s criticism of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the president falsely claimed Blumenthal “went around telling war stories,” claimed he “fought in Da Nang Province” and talked of “soldiers dying left and right as we battled up the hill.” Blumenthal never said any of those things.
We generally let politicians fend for themselves when they are attacked for misstatements. When Trump tweeted in February 2017 that Blumenthal told a “major lie,” because he “never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had,” we did not weigh in.
But like a snowball rolling downhill, Trump’s account of Blumenthal’s misstatements has grown more exaggerated over time – particularly during Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings.
So, here we will lay out the facts about Blumenthal’s time as a Marine reservist during – not in – the Vietnam War, and how those facts have been distorted.
Blumenthal’s misleading statements about his military service during Vietnam first surfaced while he was running for the Senate in 2010 when the New York Times ran a story headlined “Richard Blumenthal’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History.”
The story, which was published May 17, 2010, noted that during a rally in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 2003 in support of the military, Blumenthal talked about Vietnam War veterans and stated, “When we returned, we saw nothing like this. Let us do better by this generation of men and women.” And in 2008, the paper noted, Blumenthal told a group in Norwalk, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”
But, as the newspaper documented, Blumenthal did not serve as a Marine in Vietnam. Blumenthal’s Selective Service record, published by the New York Times, showed that Blumenthal got at least five educational and occupational deferments from 1965 to 1970. He then enlisted in the Marine Reserve and served for six years stateside. The Marine Reserve was never deployed in Vietnam. (We should note that Trump also got five deferments, including a final one for bone spurs in his heels, during the Vietnam War.)
The New York Times also found: “In at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam.” And yet, the paper wrote, “It does not appear that Mr. Blumenthal ever sought to correct those mistakes.”
When the story came out, Blumenthal, then serving as Connecticut’s attorney general, told reporters, “On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service and I regret that, and I will take full responsibility. But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to this country.”
Blumenthal added that any claims he made to have served in Vietnam were “absolutely unintentional — a few misplaced words.” He said that he usually tries to be more precise in saying that he served in the Marine Reserve “during” Vietnam rather than “in” Vietnam.
Indeed, in the same 2008 speech in which he said he served “in Vietnam,” Blumenthal initially said he was “someone who served in the military during the Vietnam-era in the Marine Corps.” And during a debate in March 2010, the Times noted, Blumenthal responded to a question about Iran by saying, “Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I have seen firsthand the effects of military action, and no one wants it to be the first resort, nor do we want to mortgage the country’s future with a deficit that is ballooning out of control.”
A week after publication of the Times story and his explanation that he had “misspoken,” Blumenthal offered a more full-throated apology, saying in a statement, “I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone.” And he acknowledged, “At times when I have sought to honor veterans, I have not been as clear or precise as I should have been about my service in the Marine Corps Reserves.”
Trump’s Escalating Attacks
The president ramped up those attacks after Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Kavanaugh’s credibility during the committee’s review of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assault her in the summer of 1982.
During a rally in Tennessee on Oct. 1, Trump unveiled a new nickname for Blumenthal, dubbing him “Da Nang Blumenthal.”
Trump, Oct. 1: How about Blumenthal? Da Nang Blumenthal, we call him Da Nang Blumenthal. For 15 years, as the attorney general of Connecticut, he went around telling war stories. People dying left and right, but my platoon marched forward. He was never in Vietnam. It was a lie. And then he’s up there — then he’s up there saying, “We want the truth from Judge Kavanaugh.”
The same day, during remarks on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump continued the attack.
Trump, Oct. 1: Look at some of these people asking the questions, OK. Look at Blumenthal, he lied about Vietnam. He didn’t just say, “Hey, I went to Vietnam.” No, no. For 15 years, he said he was a war hero. He fought in Da Nang Province. We call him “Da Nang Richard.” “Da Nang,” that’s his nickname, “Da Nang.” He never went to Vietnam. And he’s up there saying, “We need honesty, and we need integrity.” This guy lied when he was the attorney general of Connecticut. He lied. I don’t mean a little bit. And then when he got out — he actually dropped out the race and he won anyway, because Democrats always win in Connecticut. He won very close, probably the closest ever. … And when he got out and when he apologized, he was crying, the tears were all over the place, and now he acts like, “How dare you.”
The following day, at a rally in Mississippi, Trump added a couple new wrinkles.
Trump, Oct. 2: This guy lied about his service. He didn’t just say, “Gee, I was in the service.” No. He said, “I was in the Marines. Da Nang Province. Soldiers dying left and right as we battled up the hill.” This went on for 15 years when he was the attorney general of Connecticut. I thought he was a great war hero. And then it turned out he was never in Vietnam. He was in the Reserves. And I watched him two days ago. I watched him saying, “We need the truth. If we don’t have” — and here’s a guy who was saying people were dying all around him and he was never there. And then he cried. When they caught him, he cried like a baby. … And the reason he got elected is because in Connecticut it’s impossible for a Republican to get elected. And I did well there. But you can’t. He actually gave up the race. You’d thought he lost. You remember that? He, sort of, gave — he stopped campaigning. It was over. And then he won by three points.
Again, Blumenthal in 2008 said, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.” And he said in 2003, “When we returned [from Vietnam], we saw nothing like this.” (Emphasis is ours.)
But Blumenthal never said he fought in Da Nang Province. He never “went around telling war stories. ‘People dying left and right, but my platoon marched forward.'” He never talked about, “Soldiers dying left and right as we battled up the hill.”
It’s also untrue that “when [Blumenthal] apologized, he was crying, the tears were all over the place,” or that, “When they caught him, he cried like a baby.”
Here’s a video of Blumenthal’s initial response on May 18, 2010, to the New York Times story, in which he said, “I misspoke about my service.” No tears. And here’s a video of Blumenthal’s speech at the 2010 Connecticut State Democratic Convention on May 21, 2010. No crying. And here’s a video of Blumenthal talking to the media on May 24, 2010, after he released a statement apologizing for his “mistakes.” Again, no crying, no tears.
Nor is it true that in 2010, Blumental “actually dropped out the race and he won anyway, because Democrats always win in Connecticut. He won very close, probably the closest ever.” Or, as Trump put it on Oct. 2, “He actually gave up the race. You’d thought he lost. You remember that? He, sort of, gave — he stopped campaigning. It was over. And then he won by three points.”
Blumenthal never dropped out of the 2010 Senate race. And while a poll taken immediately after the Times story broke in 2010 showed that Blumenthal’s sizable lead had dwindled to just 3 percentage points, he actually won the general election by a dozen percentage points over his opponent, Republican Linda McMahon. That was by no means the “closest ever” Senate race in Connecticut history. As the Washington Post Fact Checker pointed out, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman won by a smaller margin in 1988 and 2006, as did Sen. Lowell Weicker in 1982.
Blumental was reelected in 2016 by a nearly 29-point margin.
In a tweet on Oct. 1, Blumenthal said Trump’s “ridiculous personal attacks are total nonsense — simply untrue.”
A spokesman for Blumenthal also said there is a misperception that Blumenthal frequently mischaracterized his service record, though the New York Times article cited just one instance of Blumenthal saying he served “in Vietnam.” As we said, Blumenthal in the same speech more accurately stated he was “someone who served in the military during the Vietnam-era in the Marine Corps.”
So to recap, based on what we know from the public record: Blumenthal did not say he was a “war hero.” He did not say he fought in Da Nang Province. He never bragged about battles. He never talked about “soldiers dying left and right as we battled up the hill.” He never said “people were dying all around him.” He never “went around telling war stories.” He apologized and said he “should have been more precise” in his language, but he didn’t “cry like a baby.” He never “dropped out of the race,” or “stopped campaigning.” He didn’t eke out a win “by three points”; he won by a dozen points. And that wasn’t nearly the “closest ever” Connecticut Senate race.
Update, Oct. 10, 2018: Trump added even more preposterous exaggerations onto his claims about Blumenthal during a rally in Kansas on Oct. 6. In his latest remarks, Trump described Blumenthal as saying he tried twice to make heroic rescues as comrades were being shot all around him. Said Trump: “He talked about, when I was in Da Nang province in Vietnam and I was fighting up the hill and men are going left and right of me, they’re dying. They’re being struck by bullets, but I went back to their rescue. I went back and I got them, and then I made a second attempt, and bullets are going left and right and over my shoulders and they’re hitting my men.” Again, there is no public record of Blumenthal saying any of that.