It doesn’t take long for the long arm of establishment politics to uncover the underbelly of candidates whom they don’t want to advance in the process. The first casualty is Ben Carson.
Politico broke the story that Carson lied about his acceptance to West Point Academy with a full ride scholarship as he previously wrote in his book, “Gifted Hands.”
Politico: The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process), then we would have records indicating such,” she said.
When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit,” campaign manager Barry Bennett wrote in an email to POLITICO. “In that role he was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”
“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” Bennett added. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”
This admission comes as serious questions about other points of fact in Carson’s personal narrative are questioned, including the seminal episode in which he claimed to have attempted to stab a close friend. Similarly, details have emerged that cast doubt on the nature of Carson’s encounter with one of the most prominent military men of that era.
The West Point spokeswoman said it certainly is possible Carson talked with Westmoreland, and perhaps the general even encouraged him to apply to West Point. However, she said, the general would have explained the benefits of a West Point education without guaranteeing him entry.
An application to West Point begins with a nomination by a member of Congress or another prominent government or military official. After that, a rigorous vetting process begins. If offered admission, all costs are covered; indeed there are no “full scholarships,” per se.
In “Gifted Hands,” Carson says he excelled in his ROTC program at Detroit’s Southwestern High School, earning the respect of his superiors — just a couple years after anger problems led him to try to murder a friend. He attained the rank of second lieutenant by his senior year of high school and became the student leader of the city’s ROTC programs.
In May of his senior year, he was chosen to march in the city’s Memorial Day parade.
“I felt so proud, my chest bursting with ribbons and braids of every kind. To make it more wonderful, we had important visitors that day. Two soldiers who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Viet Nam were present,” he wrote. “More exciting to me, General William Westmoreland (very prominent in the Viet Nam war) attended with an impressive entourage. Afterward, Sgt. Hunt” — his high school ROTC director — “introduced me to General Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”
But, according to records of Westmoreland’s schedule that were provided by the U.S. Army, the general did not visit Detroit around Memorial Day in 1969 or have dinner with Carson. In fact, the general’s records suggest he was in Washington that day and played tennis at 6:45 p.m.
There are, however, several reports of an event in February of that year, similar to the one Carson described. Then, Westmoreland was the featured guest at a 1,500-person banquet to celebrate Medal of Honor recipient Dwight Johnson. The event drew prominent guests, including the governor at the time, the mayor of Detroit, the president of Ford Motor Company and nine previous Medal of Honor awardees, according to an Associated Press account of the event.
Carson, a leader of the city’s ROTC program at the time, may have been among the invited guests at the $10-a-plate event.
Carson’s later retelling of the events in this period of his life downplays his meeting with Westmoreland and that event’s link to a West Point acceptance. In his January 2015 book, “You Have a Brain,” — a book geared toward teenagers — Carson again recalls his rapid rise through his high school ROTC program to become the top student officer in the city.
“That position allowed me the chance to meet four-star general William Westmoreland, who had commanded all American forces in Vietnam before being promoted to Army Chief of Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote. “I also represented the Junior ROTC at a dinner for Congressional Medal of Honor winners, marched at the front of Detroit’s Memorial Day parade as head of an ROTC contingent, and was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”
Carson has said he turned down the supposed offer of admission because he knew he wanted to be a doctor and attending West Point would have required four years of military service after graduation.
Cecil Murphey, who ghostwrote “Gifted Hands,” told POLITICO that his memory of Carson’s exchange with Westmoreland was hazy.
“My gut response is that it was not a private meeting, but there were others there,” he said in an email. “The general took a liking to Ben and opened doors.”
These allegations come on the heels of media speculation that Carson did not have the angry and violent childhood as he has claimed. CBS reports:
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is defending himself against recent CNN reports that questioned his claims of having a violent history as a child.
During an interview on CNN early Friday, Carson said the report was filled with “lies” and was “pathetic.”
“I saw your article. I didn’t see any elementary school friends there,” he told CNN. “It’s a bunch of lies. That’s what it is. A bunch of lies, attempting to say that I’m lying about my history. I think it’s pathetic.”
Carson called the media’s scrutiny of his candidacy unfair, compared to their investigations of Barack Obama, when the then-Illinois senator was running for the White House.
“Obama was not vetted like this,” he said. It “doesn’t even come close to what you guys are trying to do in my case.”
“It is just garbage,” the GOP contender added. “We have too many things that are important to deal with.”
CNN had examined Carson’s claims about his past and concluded it was unable to verify any of the violent incidents the retired neurosurgeon had written about in his best-selling memoir, “Gifted Hands,” including stories that he had once tried to beat his mother with a hammer and had punched a classmate in the face. The network talked to several people who attended Carson’s elementary, junior, and high school.
But on Fox News Thursday, Carson said, “Those claims are absolutely true. You know, I am 100 percent sure that they’re true. And this is simply an attempt to smear and to deflect the argument to something else.”
The Republican candidate defended one incident in particular, written widely about in press reports, where he said he once attempted to stab a friend he identified as “Bob” because of an argument over switching a radio station. Carson has repeatedly said it was a pivotal moment in his transformation from an angry youth to the calm, soft-spoken man he is today.
Carson also changed the names of some of the people portrayed in his book. “I never used the true names of people and books, you know, to protect the innocent. That’s something that people have done for decades, for centuries. That’s something that’s commonly done,” Carson told Fox. “The person that I tried to stab, you know, I talked to today said would they want to be revealed? They were not anxious to be revealed.”
Carson disclosed further information about the victim of the stabbing victim, who he said was not just an acquaintance but “a close relative.”
“I really don’t want to get into the details of who that person was,” he told Fox. “But, also, I want to point out how silly the CNN investigation is. Because when I would have flashes of temper, it would only be the people directly involved.”
Republican rival Donald Trump, whose lead in national polls has dwindled with Carson’s recent rise in popularity, went on a Twitter screed against the GOP contender for the recent CNN reports:
Carson has never contended he made application to West Point, only that he was awarded a spot via a conversation with Westmorland. And he also denies media claims that he is lying about his childhood.
So, what do you think? Is Carson a train wreck in the making, or is this the work of Republican establishment and left wing media to crush the Carson GOP primary candidacy?