Richard Blumenthal
Credit: Senate Democrats/Flickr

Falsely suggesting that you served in a war that you did not serve in is a contemptible thing to do. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut did this on at least three occasions prior to becoming a candidate for the Senate. At two political events honoring veterans, one in 2007 and the other in 2008, he referred to the bad reception Vietnam veterans had received on returning home, but he did so in a way that suggested that he was one of them. At another veterans’ event in 2008, he went further and said, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.” In truth, Blumenthal received five scholastic deferments from that conflict before landing a spot in the Marine reserves.  He spent no time in Vietnam and he should be criticized harshly for ever suggesting otherwise.

But here’s what Sen. Blumenthal did not do. He did not say that he was a war hero or ever describe being in Vietnam in any way. He did not say he served in Da Nang, nor did he concoct any war stories. What he did, which was unforgivable, was to speak in a way that intentionally conflated his Vietnam-era reserve service with others’ combat experiences so that he could claim a little extra credibility while speaking at veterans’ events.

I wish we could hold him permanently accountable for his horrible decision to do this, but it’s difficult when the president of the United States consistently lies about Blumenthal’s shameful record.  The latest example from the president is little different from his many prior ones, except this time he appears to told the lies directly to high officials in the Vietnamese government.

Again, Blumenthal never said he was in Da Nang and he never told war stories of his heroism. He served in the military during the Vietnam War but on three occasions he gave the strong impression that he had actually served in Vietnam. On one of those occasions, he explicitly and falsely stated that he had served in Vietnam, which he had not.

For whatever reason, simply retelling the true story of Blumenthal’s indefensible behavior is not enough for Trump. Seemingly every time that Sen. Blumenthal opens his mouth to criticize the president, the president responds by lying about Blumenthal’s record.

Because Blumenthal deserves to get raked over the coals for his misstatements for the rest of eternity, I’ve traditionally grimaced but tolerated Trump’s exaggerations. But I think telling these lies to foreign leaders is taking things several steps too far.

Maybe I am a hard-ass on matters like this, but I personally would never vote for anyone who had ever falsely claimed to have served in combat. I think a lot of people feel the way I do, which is why it ought to be sufficient to just tell the truth about Blumenthal. Nonetheless, he is a U.S. senator and he deserves a certain basic level of respect. He appears to be doing a very adequate job of representing his constituents and I happen to agree with him on most political matters, so I don’t find his presence in the Senate all that objectionable. Regardless of how you feel about his political service, it should be obvious that it’s wrong for the president of the United States to travel to a foreign country and repeat outright lies and fabrications about a sitting senator.

This is such an egregious act on Trump’s part, that he’s forced me to do what I never thought I would, which is to offer this limited defense of Blumenthal’s disgraceful behavior.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at