Carson campaign pushes back at published report questioning candidate's West Point claim

Are accounts of candidate's life story true or exaggerated for interest?


Ben Carson's presidential campaign pushed back Friday at a published report questioning a seminal moment in the personal narrative of the Republican candidate -- that the top U.S. general in the Vietnam War had been so impressed during a dinner with the young Carson that he was guaranteed a "full scholarship" to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Academy officials, responding to the POLITICO report Friday, confirmed that there is no record of Carson ever applying to the elite military academy, much less gaining entrance or a scholarship offer.

But in Carson's 1996 memoir "Gifted Hands," he appears to tell a different story: that the young Carson, a 17-year-old top ROTC officer from Detroit, had dined with Gen. William Westmoreland, who was a fresh out of his command in Vietnam, in 1969. He said he was immediately offered a full scholarship by West Point. He has said in the retelling of the story that that he turned down the supposed offer because he wanted to be a doctor. He later graduated from Yale University in 1973.

A West Point spokesperson told POLITICO that that it was "certainly possible" that Carson spoke with the general, and the four-star may have even encouraged the teenager to apply, but the school has a rigorous entry process that would not have allowed Westmoreland to guarantee anyone entry. Furthermore, there are no "full scholarships" to the academy.

According to Westmoreland's schedule, he wasn't even in Detroit at the time. 

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Carson's campaign responded Friday saying that Carson did meet with Westmoreland, and West Point officials told him he could get in based on his high school grades and performance in the ROTC. But in the end, he did not seek the application. 

"There are 'Service Connected' nominations for stellar High School ROTC appointments," said campaign manager Barry Bennett. "Again he was the top ROTC student in Detroit.  I would argue strongly that an Appointment is indeed an amazing full scholarship. Having ran several Congressional Offices I am very familiar with the Nomination process."

"Again though his Senior Commander was in touch with West Point and told Dr. Carson he could get in,  Dr. Carson did not seek admission."

The campaign later took issue with POLITICO's allegation that the campaign admitted the claim was false, calling the charge  "irresponsible... an outright lie." 

Republican strategists who spoke with following the revelations Friday said this could be more than just a hiccup for the Carson campaign. The candidate's backstory has come under increased scrutiny as he enjoys the top slot in many of the latest primary polls.

"When you're not a politician and you don't have a voting record, and you are running on your own narrative (like Carson) .. then this is all fair game," said media strategist Pete Snyder.

"I think people realize that people who run for office tend to embellish, but they don't take kindly to fabrication of military service or West Point applications," he added. "This is dangerous ground for Ben Carson."