Kerry accused of exaggerating role as senator in early global warming hearings

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Secretary of State John Kerry is taking heat for exaggerating his role as a senator in organizing the chamber’s first climate-change hearings.

Questions about Kerry’s repeated assertions that he helped organize and participated in the Senate hearings roughly 27 years ago resurfaced after a March 12 speech before the Atlantic Council, in Washington, D.C.

“Climate change is an issue that is personal to me, and it has been since the 1980s, when we were organizing the very first climate hearings in the Senate,” Kerry told the audience. “Al Gore, Tim Wirth and a group of us organized the first hearings in the Senate on this, 1988. We heard Jim Hansen sit in front of us and tell us it’s happening now, 1988.”

The Washington Post fact-checker concluded that Kerry at least exaggerated about his involvement and -- comparing his statements to recent tall tales by anchor Brian Williams -- gave him four “Pinocchios.”

The paper concluded he likely didn’t attend the June 23, 1988, hearing and perpetuated often-told details about the event that proved to be false. According to the Post, the March 12 speech was hardly the first time the tale was told.

The Post reported that Kerry in a 2007 Council of Foreign Relations speech, at a 2009 Senate hearing, in a 2010 Huffington Post story and in a 2014 Boston Globe profile said he and Gore, then a Tennessee senator and a fellow Democrat, were part of the first hearing or hearings.

“In all of the statements, there is a common theme -- Kerry and Gore, riding shotgun together, organizing the ‘very first’ Senate or Capitol Hill hearings on climate change,” the newspaper wrote.

Whether Kerry participated in the first hearings is a matter of interpretation.

The 1988 hearing is widely considered the one that brought the issue of climate change, or global warming, to the forefront for the American public, with a story about explosive expert testimony making The New York Times’ front page.

However, congressional hearings on the issue date back to the 1960’s, ’70s and ’80s -- long before Kerry joined the Senate in 1985.

In addition, neither Kerry nor Gore was a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that held the 1988 hearing, which makes their unofficial attendance unlikely and nearly impossible to verify.

In response to the questions about Kerry’s remarks, spokesman Alec Gerlach pointed to a February 1989 Commerce Committee hearing run by then-Colorado Democratic Sen. Timothy Worth at which Kerry spoke and a subcommittee hearing the next day that Gore led and Kerry attended.

“Secretary Kerry rightly referred to the work he contributed to in the Senate along with Senators Gore and Wirth beginning in 1988 and 1989 on the issue of climate change,” Gerlach told The Post. “As the secretary made clear, these hearings were a turning point: the first to point to new research that made clear the human impact on increasing greenhouse gasses was connected to climate change and a warming planet. No prior congressional discussions had made that critical connection.”

Kerry previously had described how, at the hearing, the windows were left open and the attendees sweltered in the summer heat. But sources including the top NASA official who testified told the Post that was not true.

“To be fair to Kerry, he has been involved in the debate about climate change for many years,” the Post wrote. “But his pattern of exaggeration about the congressional hearings is disturbing. … Kerry was not even a participant in the most important hearing of that time; he simply spoke at a hearing that took place the following year. And yet, like Brian Williams claiming to have come under fire in Iraq, Kerry has repeatedly placed himself at the center of the action -- and the narrative.”