Conn. Candidate Blumenthal Under Fire Over Vietnam Service Record

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on this story, we're joined by Christopher Keating, capital bureau chief for The Hartford Courant. He has covered Mr. Blumenthal's career for the past two decades.

Chris Keating, thank you for talking with us.

Let me just ask you first, where do the facts stand right now? You have The New York Times saying that Blumenthal misstated his record several times, and then you have Mr. Blumenthal himself today saying, no, it was inadvertent; it was only a few times; most of the time, he got it right.

CHRISTOPHER KEATING, The Hartford Courant: That's correct.

He basically said he's been to almost hundreds of wreath-laying ceremonies and funerals and different occasions where he spoke, and said it was only a couple of times. He did admit to misspeaking. But the people who were there, the veterans who were behind him at the press conference basically all said that they never heard him misspeak.

And other Vietnam veterans that I spoke to said they had never heard Blumenthal misspeak about his service.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, as we just reported, as we just said, you have covered him for many years. Have you ever heard him claim or say that he served in Vietnam?

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: I personally had not. I have been at many occasions. He always mentions that he is a veteran. When people come to the state capitol, and there are different veteran ceremonies, he always mentions that. He mentions he was a sergeant and compliments the people who were in the audience, the older veterans who might have been of a higher rank.

But I personally had never heard him misstate what he did in Vietnam or that he was even in Vietnam.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it wasn't your understanding that he had been in Vietnam?

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: Correct. I never thought that he was in Vietnam.

Rob Simmons, who is the Republican candidate and a former CIA agent and a Vietnam veteran for 19 months, who is running against Blumenthal, said that he never heard Blumenthal misspeak.

So, the occasions where he did misspeak — and, admittedly, he did misspeak — were — generally, reporters were not there, other veterans or people of the — politicians of the Rob Simmons type were not there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other thing that The New York Times reported about this, Chris Keating, is that — suggested that he used influence to get into the Marine Reserves. He said today he just picked up a phone book, made a phone call, and was taken.

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: That is correct. That is what he said.

He had a very big background. He went to Harvard College. He worked in the White House. He knew Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He — he clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. Blumenthal had a lot of contacts. But he said he used none of them when he got into the Marine Reserves.

And that is correct; he said he got it out of the phone book, no special privileges, despite quite a background and quite a resume that he already had.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this affect the Senate race? Blumenthal was running ahead in most of the polls.

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: That is correct. Blumenthal was definitely the front-runner really in all the polls. He was the front-runner in the Democratic primary. And there may not be a primary if he gets the nomination.

The Republicans, most likely, there will be a primary in August, and then the general election in November, obviously. But Blumenthal was ahead in all the polls, both in the polls at the Democratic primary level and in the general election.

Obviously, this can't help him, but he was up by more than double digits over every other candidate in the race and beating some candidates by 20 points, 30 points.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What sort of reaction are you picking up in political circles and among the public today about this?

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: Many, many people are surprised. A lot of people didn't see this coming.

His defenders, whom I have spoken to today, his defenders say they will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, clearly, obviously, the veterans who said that he has been to more funerals than probably literally any politician in the state of Connecticut, including the governor — almost any time that somebody is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, Blumenthal is there.

He is definitely with the veterans more than any other politician in Connecticut. And, so, his supporters are giving him the benefit of the doubt. The people who don't like him are using this as another — another method of saying, you know, we don't need Blumenthal, he needs to step down, and he needs to be defeated in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, quickly, one of the Republican candidates, Linda McMahon, her campaign, I guess this morning, was saying that they had provided some of the information for this story. Anything to say about that?

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: That is correct. They're — they're backing off from that a little bit. But, no, yes, they said they were — from our information, they had provided the video and a lot of the details for the story.

Linda McMahon has already put down $16 million of her own money on this campaign. That can fund a lot of opposition research. She has said that would spend as much as $50 million on the campaign. And some people have told me that it could go higher than $50 million of her own money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it looks like you're going to have a contest in Connecticut, whoever the nominees are.

CHRISTOPHER KEATING: Yes. There will definitely be a Republican primary in August between Simmons, the CIA agent, and McMahon, and then the general.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chris Keating with The Hartford Courant, thank you very much.