Blumenthal Apologizes—& Calls Vets “They”

In New Haven Monday to help open a shelter for homeless war veterans, embattled U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal finally uttered out loud two words he hopes can stanch the campaign bleeding: “I’m sorry.”

Blumenthal was apologizing for several instances in which he has stated that he served “in Vietnam” during the war, rather than as a stateside Marine Corps reserve.

He made the apology in a conversation with the Independent before a homeless vets’ event on Davenport Avenue, and then again afterwards in an interview with the Independent and WTNH.

“I’m sorry,” “I’m very sorry,” he said. Repeatedly.

Click on the play arrow above to watch excerpts from those interviews.

Blumenthal has resisted uttering those fateful words for close to a week.

His fellow Democrats and Republican opponents have urged him to make such an apology since the New York Times reported on the misstatements last Monday night—and sparked a controversy that has seen Blumenthal’s double-digit lead evaporate in the race to replace retiring Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. Instead of apologizing, Blumenthal struck a defiant pose for days; that kept the story alive, with the Times filing more stories about new discoveries of misstatements. Finally, late Sunday night, Blumenthal’s campaign emailed a terse written apology to the Hartford Courant; then the candidate came to New Haven prepared to apologize in person.

Paul Bass PhotoBlumenthal didn’t mention the controversy during the formal event Monday, a ribbon-cutting for Harkness House, a new transitional shelter run by the Columbus House homelessness agency for 14 homeless vets at a time.

But Blumenthal did unveil a new way of talking about veterans’ issues during his formal remarks at the ribbon-cutting. Unlike in the past, he didn’t speak of having served in the military. He didn’t talk about how “we” (soldiers) were treated upon returning home from Vietnam. He spoke about how “they” were treated. And he described himself not as a fellow soldier, but as a “fighter” for veterans.

He began his official remarks by claiming he’d been moved by an opening prayer delivered on behalf of veterans by the Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the Unitarian Society of New Haven.

“It rang so true to all of us who have worked on veterans’ issues,” the candidate said. “As hard as they may fight abroad, as tough as the battles are there, often their most challenging and bitter fights occur when they return. And they are fights not only against, sometimes, a government bureaucracy that fails to acknowledge their problems. They’re fights within themselves. They are inner battles that continue to be waged even as they come back to this nation where we have such freedom and peace because of their battles fought for us abroad. And this house will be a place of peace for them.”

In the interviews before and after the event, the candidate noted that he had previously expressed “regret” for making misstatements about having served “in Vietnam.” Now it’s time to utter a clear apology, he said.

“I want to say I made a mistake and I’m sorry to anyone who may have taken offense,” he said. “I’m going to continue to champion the cause of Connecticut’s and our nation’s veterans and now begin hopefully to turn to the real problems and the real issues that affect the people of Connecticut.”

“When I was honoring veterans I should have been more precise and clear in the words I used,” he said. “I want to say I’m sorry.”

Blumenthal expressed the hope that now that he’s apologized, the campaign discussion can turn to other questions.

“I hope that we’ll begin to talk about real issues that affect real people,” he said, “... the need to rebuild our economy, create more jobs ... making sure America is safe and strong.”

Will It Work?

Erin Cox WTNH PhotoIt’s unclear how quickly that can happen, as demonstrated by the pictured sticker worn by a delegate at last weekend’s Republican state convention (spotted by WTNH’s Erin Cox).  One question is whether Blumenthal waited too long to apologize, thereby keeping the story alive, making the apology itself a story, and basically daring the New York Times to continue writing stories about instances in which he fudged his military record.

The Blumenthal campaign Monday afternoon argued in a conference call with reporters that Blumenthal is weathering the controversy just fine. The call was with internal campaign pollsters from the firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. They said that in a poll of 602 likely voters last week, 91 percent reported being familiar with the controversy—and yet Blumenthal still led Republican frontrunner Linda McMahon 55 to 40 percent. They said 62 percent rated his job performance as good or excellent.

At the New Haven event Monday, Blumenthal deflected a question about whether the episode has given him insight into how quickly politicians should apologize for missteps.

One piece of useful advice might have come from a 1964 book called My Indiana. It quotes a Congressman named Charles Brownson. “I never quarrel with a man,” Brownson allegedly said, “who buys ink by the barrel.”

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posted by: SJB on May 24, 2010  1:17pm

It’s the height of irony for a media outlet to accuse Blumenthal of “keeping story alive.” Yeah, he forced you to keep reporting on last week’s “scandal.”

posted by: Sean on May 24, 2010  1:26pm

This man lied about serving in the military.  It doesn’t seem anyone understands how utterly pathetic and shameful that is.  This man should be ashamed of himself…

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on May 24, 2010  1:45pm

Thanks for covering this. Today’s program opened by honoring those we lost in war by playing Taps and the raising of the flag, which is why we look so serious in the picture.
But it was a cheerful, although serious, ceremony at Harkness House. The moving, upbeat ribbon cutting at this, Columbus House’s transitional home for soldiers, celebrated New Haven’s commitment to returning soldiers and, in the naming of it, honored Westville resident Lori Harkness for her unflagging advocacy for soldiers.
Today’s speakers were Alison Cunningham, Sen Toni Harp, myself, Stanley Welch for Cong. Rosa DeLauro, Vincent Ng of the VA, AG Dick Blumenthal, and a veteran named (sp?) Boudreaux, who told his story. 
New Haven continues to lead by honoring those who served and remembering them when they come home.

posted by: Otto on May 24, 2010  2:44pm

He’s a politician; can’t excuse these types of “slip ups”. That said… he’s been a huge advocate for veterans, and the horror of having a Conservative ... like Linda McMahon in the Senate, only helps him at this stage.

posted by: Bill on May 24, 2010  2:46pm

I’m curious as to why was Blumenthal was at this particular event? Were any other Senatorial candidates invited or was this a staged democrat event to try to bolster Blumenthals image?

posted by: AndersonScooper on May 24, 2010  2:56pm

Amazing that this non-story can be drawn out for so long.

No one with half-a-clue has ever thought that Blumenthal served “in country”, a la John Kerry. Instead it’s been well-known that Dick served stateside, as a reservist.

“We” or “They”, does it matter? The only thing that does matter is that even if Blumenthal had three Silver Stars. (like John Kerry), the Republican would still be playing their smear games.

PS—If you want a paragon of virtue, and a person of strong character,—Linda McMahon?

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on May 24, 2010  2:59pm

Bill, seriously, Columbus House? No.
Some of us in public life have been active for years, partnering with Columbus House to improve current systems to find our veterans, target government aid to those who served, and also raising private and public dollars so current services are protected. 
We were invited way way in advance of any recent events because of our relationships with Columbus House.

posted by: andrea on May 24, 2010  4:10pm

I am really starting to wonder if this issue is being used by him to get more and more press.  And if it is- it certainly is working.  And SJB- if he had said the words “I am sorry,” instead of “I regret” it probably would have simply gone away.
Honesty, I had no intention of voting for him prior to this (due to other reasons) and feel the same way now.  But please- the man is not a victim of the press- in fact the press has constantly and actively taken his side in most matters.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on May 24, 2010  9:57pm


posted by: Beansie's Mom on May 25, 2010  7:21am

Rep Dillon

Thanks for actually trying to get information about the actual event into the “news.”

posted by: cba on May 25, 2010  11:35am

no apology will erase this politico’s attempt to steal valor

posted by: Carol on May 25, 2010  12:27pm

I find it silly that people are complaining about saying “I regret” when the Encarta English Dictionary defines “regret” as “to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others”.  Dick Blumenthal may have gotten caught up in a speech where he used “in Vietnam” instead of “during Vietnam” but his actions in defense of and on behalf of Veterans should speak much louder than that.  He has been a champion for all of CT citizens and we should all remember that. I’m sure his opponents are loving that the news media keeps this going.

posted by: Victim's Revenge on May 25, 2010  2:57pm

It depends on what the definition of is, is.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on May 26, 2010  1:33pm

Too little, too late, from Richard Blumenthal, “a professional politician.”  He had to be embarrassed by the Hartford Courant, before he finally “apologized?”

I hope, he and the rest of the “Obama Rubber Stamps” are eliminated on Election Day!”

posted by: Victim's Revenge on May 28, 2010  11:23am

Richard Blumenthal cannot be called a liar. Liars are people that work for a living and make less than one hundred thousand dollars a year. He’s a master deliberator and if you were as educated as he is you would know the difference. Once you make it to our countries privileged class of people then you can no longer be held accountable for anything you do or say. So quit your crying and complaining and just do what he tells you to do because he’s up there and we’re down here. That’s just the way it is. Privilege is its own reward.