— President Trump, in remarks at the White House about Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Oct. 1, 2018
This fact-check explores what someone with five Vietnam deferments said about someone else with five Vietnam deferments.
Trump and Blumenthal are the same age, 72. Both were born to privilege in New York City and attended Ivy League schools. Both managed to avoid the Vietnam War in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
After his fifth deferment, however, Blumenthal enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in April 1970 and served for six years during the tail end of the war, based in the United States. Trump’s fifth deferment — he was diagnosed with bone spurs in his heels after graduating from college in 1968 — exempted him from military service. (Trump told Howard Stern in 1998 that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases stateside was his own, personal Vietnam.)
In his first Senate race, in 2010, Blumenthal was called out by the New York Times for saying or implying at some points that he had gone to war in Vietnam. (He had not.)
“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Blumenthal, then Connecticut’s attorney general, told a group in Norwalk, Conn., in 2008. He also praised a group of military families in 2003 by saying, “When we returned from Vietnam, we saw nothing like this.”
At other points before and during the 2010 race, Blumenthal accurately described his military record. “Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I have seen firsthand the effects of military action,” he said during a March 2010 debate for the Senate race, as the Times reported in the same article.
Trump brings up Blumenthal’s lapses about Vietnam whenever the senator irks him. But the president’s latest comments go beyond the facts to a comical degree.
This back-and-forth feels like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which the same day keeps repeating itself.
When Blumenthal told reporters that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, then a Supreme Court nominee, had said in a private meeting with the senator that he found Trump’s attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” Trump challenged Blumenthal’s credibility with a “Vietnam” tweet.
As we reported at the time, Blumenthal’s account was immediately confirmed by Ron Bonjean, a member of the group guiding Gorsuch through his confirmation process on behalf of the Trump administration, and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Gorsuch had told him “any attack on … brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges.”
When Blumenthal went on CNN to voice support for the investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the president called him a “phony Vietnam con artist” on Twitter.
Blumenthal sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been critical of Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. He has been saying lately that Kavanaugh gave testimony under oath that is contradicted by the facts.
Blumenthal is also the lead plaintiff in a steadily advancing lawsuit that could open up the Trump Organization’s books to lawmakers. A federal judge ruled Sept. 28 that Blumenthal and nearly 200 other Democrats had legal standing in their lawsuit alleging that the president violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause when his business collects payments from foreign governments. That means the case can proceed even though Trump asked that it be dismissed.
Trump tweeted Sept. 29: “Senator Richard Blumenthal must talk about his fraudulent service in Vietnam, where for 12 years he told the people of Connecticut, as their Attorney General, that he was a great Marine War Hero. Talked about his many battles of near death, but was never in Vietnam. Total Phony!” (There’s no evidence for these claims, as Blumenthal never described himself as a war hero or talked about any battles in Vietnam.)
Then, at the White House on Oct. 1, Trump fired another Vietnam salvo at Blumenthal:
“Look at some of these people asking the questions [about Kavanaugh], okay? 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 of 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?’”
Blumenthal in 2003 told a crowd about “return[ing] from Vietnam,” implying he had been there, and in 2008 he told another crowd about “the days that I served in Vietnam.” He didn’t.
In an interview for the initial Times article, Blumenthal acknowledged misspeaking about his record on several occasions. On May 18, 2010, the day after the Times published its article, Blumenthal held a news conference and said: “On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that, and I take full responsibility. But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country. I served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and I am proud of it.”
Asked whether he had lied, Blumenthal said at the news conference, “I did misspeak on a few occasions out of hundreds that I have attended, whether events or ceremonies.” Blumenthal’s staff pointed out that he had described himself as “someone who served in the military during the Vietnam-era in the Marine Corps” at the same 2008 event where he later said he served “in Vietnam.” (Emphasis ours.)
A few days after the Times story, Blumenthal apologized for mischaracterizing his military record.
“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.”
This is false. Blumenthal never described himself as a war hero, never said he fought in Da Nang, and the Blumenthal remarks and news articles identified by the Times as false or misleading covered a nine-year period from 2000 to 2009, not 15 years.
In some cases, the Times focused on news articles describing Blumenthal as a Vietnam War veteran and questioned why Blumenthal did not seek corrections. That’s different from saying he lied. The only problematic remarks from Blumenthal that we identified came in 2003 and 2008.
A Blumenthal spokeswoman said he “never claimed to have fought in Da Nang (or any other province, for that matter).”
Connecticut’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, published an editorial noting: “Mr. Blumenthal never claimed to be in any battle. … Nor did Mr. Blumenthal claim he was a war hero, as Mr. Trump has said. Nor did he talk about any near-death experiences.”
The president was at it again the next day, Oct. 2, at a campaign rally in Mississippi. “When Jimmy Swaggart cried, it was nothing compared to Da Nang Richard,” Trump said. (Swaggart was a top-rated televangelist in the late ’80s. He was caught with prostitutes and cried during a TV apology in 1988.)
“He actually dropped out of the race, and he won anyway because Democrats always win in Connecticut.”
This is false. Blumenthal did not drop out of the Senate race in 2010; nor did he win the race despite having dropped out. (How would that even work?)
“He won very close, probably the closest ever.”
We reviewed U.S. Senate election results in Connecticut from 1976 to 2016. Blumenthal won the 2010 race with a comfortable, 12-point margin.
It was not “very close” or “probably the closest ever.” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman won with a 10-point margin in 2006 and squeaked to victory with a 0.8-point margin in 1988. Sen. Lowell Weicker won with a four-point margin in 1982.
Blumenthal won reelection in 2016 by 29 points.
“And when he got out and when he apologized, he was crying. The tears were all over the place.”
Several issues here: Trump appears to be referring to Blumenthal’s news conference the day after the Times article. Blumenthal did not apologize, get out of the race, or cry at this event, as anyone can see from the video. He apologized days later in a written statement, but written statements don’t have tear glands.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
“I obviously hit a nerve after the ruling in our Foreign Emoluments Clause lawsuit,” Blumenthal tweeted in response to Trump’s attacks.
The Pinocchio Test
Blumenthal described his military record in misleading or false terms on a few occasions before he was elected to the Senate in 2010. He acknowledged as much when the Times called him out and apologized days later. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and served six years.
Trump did not enlist and does not apologize when he makes false or misleading statements. His latest tirade against Blumenthal is littered with falsehoods that veer into ridiculous territory.
In a 90-second span, Trump said Blumenthal claimed to have fought in Da Nang (false), that Blumenthal described himself as a “war hero” for 15 years (false), that he dropped out of the 2010 race (false), that he cried (false) and that he won with a close margin (false).
That’s five false claims, one for each deferment, but we can give only Four Pinocchios.
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