The week before the fourth Republican presidential primary debate on Tuesday, sometime Republican presidential front-runner Ben Carson has faced some tough questions about his past. In a twist perhaps unique in modern presidential politics, he’s had to defend the veracity of stories he’s often repeated about behaving badly — trying to knife a classmate at 14, hitting another classmate with a rock in his hand, trying to hit his mother with a hammer — that show how his faith helped save him from the rough streets of Detroit.
And, after battling detractors over the weekend who said some of these tales couldn’t be verified, Carson had had enough.
“It’s time to really move on,” he said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “It’s not time to spend every single day talking about something that happened 50 years ago.”
But whether it’s the pediatric neurosurgeon’s strange theories about the Egyptian pyramids or his opinion that armed Jews could have “greatly diminished” the Holocaust, there always seems to be another Carson tale worth re-examining. And, as Republicans gather in Milwaukee for the Fox Business Network debate Tuesday night, one very strange Carson tale has yet to be delved into: the candidate’s contention, discussed in speeches and an op-ed as recently as last year, that he was sued for paternity by an unnamed woman in Florida and refused to give a DNA sample to resolve the case.
Though he’s told the story as early as 2003, as Mediaite reported, Carson wrote about the paternity suit at length in a Washington Times op-ed in 2014. The piece was a condemnation of “Chicago-style politics” and political corruption.
“I have had an opportunity to witness firsthand how the blackmail threat operates,” he wrote. “Several years ago while I was in the operating room, I received a call from one of the legal offices at Johns Hopkins University informing me that the state of Florida was trying to attach my wages for child support.”
This tidbit, appearing in the seventh paragraph of an opinion piece in a conservative newspaper, was a jaw-dropper. But though Carson had, as journalists say, buried his lede, he continued:
I was quite shocked at such an allegation and informed them that I had three children, which I already support very ably. They said a woman in Florida was accusing me of being the father of her son, and that she had proof of our relationship. The proof turned out to be knowledge of where I went to high school, college, medical school, and where I served my internship and residency. To top all that off, she had a picture of me in scrubs. I said anyone could obtain such information. However, the paternity suit was pursued, and I had to involve my personal lawyer.
Paternity tests, as Maury Povich can attest, are easily settled. Carson could have ended the case more than a decade ago when he was a private citizen; alternately, he could have given a blood sample before he launched a high-profile presidential campaign. But Carson was not swayed:
As the case advanced, I was asked to provide a blood specimen to facilitate DNA testing. I refused on the basis of the incompetence of any governmental agency that was willing to pursue a paternity suit on such flimsy grounds. I said that level of incompetence would probably result in my blood specimen being found at a murder scene and me spending the rest of my life in prison.
Shortly thereafter, the suit was dropped with no further ramifications. I’m virtually certain that the woman in Florida erroneously assumed that someone who travels as much as I do was probably engaging in numerous extramarital affairs and probably wouldn’t even remember all the parties with whom he had been involved. Under such circumstances, she assumed that I would be willing to fork over the money to avoid public embarrassment.
What she didn’t know is that I did not have to scratch my head and try to remember which affair she represented, because I knew that the only woman I have ever slept with in my life was my wife. Even if that had not been the case, I think confession and dealing with the consequences would have been the best course of action.
Carson went on to discuss a famous case of blackmail involving the nation’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. As Carson told it in his Washington Times piece, Hamilton “was seduced by the wife of a political enemy with the intention of blackmailing him into complying with their wishes. Hamilton publicly confessed his transgression and the public forgave him, completely thwarting the plans of his adversaries.”
In fact, it wasn’t quite that simple. Hamilton engaged in an affair in 1791 with a 23-year-old woman, Maria Reynolds, who, as Hamilton told it, lured him to her home. When her husband, James Reynolds, discovered the relationship, he threatened to tell Hamilton’s wife unless Hamilton paid him hush money, which he did. The affair continued.
Ultimately, however, Reynolds informed some of Hamilton’s political rivals, including future president James Monroe, who sent them along to Hamilton’s arch-enemy, Thomas Jefferson. Eventually, for complicated reasons and after a quiet investigation by some members of Congress, Hamilton decided to go public about the affair and the blackmail in a pamphlet, primarily to avoid a potentially more damaging scandal related to his role as treasury secretary.
As this article in Smithsonian Magazine recounted, the public was not so forgiving. Hamilton’s “reputation was in tatters,” wrote Angela Serratore, and “talk of further political office effectively ceased.” (Hamilton died in an 1804 duel with Aaron Burr, who, as it happened, represented Maria Reynolds in a divorce suit against her husband.)
The moral of the story, according to Carson:
I think the American people are just as forgiving today if people are willing to be honest. With so much at stake regarding our country’s future, I think now would be an excellent time to come clean for all national public figures who have been threatened by Chicago-style politics or who know that there are skeletons in their closet.
So, in sum: To exhibit his opposition to political corruption, government intrusion on his privacy, and his faithfulness to his wife, Carson had revived — no, pointed to — the case of a founding father who was guilty of infidelity and a paternity suit few knew about that would leave any voter or reporter with a lot of questions.
“The purpose of the anecdote seems to be to slip in that humblebrag about never having slept with anyone other than his wife, but confessing to having been sued for paternity seems like an awful long walk to get there,” Tommy Christopher of Mediaite wrote. “It’s not as though this story was ever out there; the only published reports I could find about it were of Carson telling the story himself.”
Fred Barbash contributed to this report.