What presidential candidate Ben Carson says happened in his past comes under intense scrutiny


Dr. Ben Carson (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — Ben Carson faced growing questions on Friday about key aspects of his personal narrative that he has discussed publicly over several decades.

Carson himself acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that a scholarship offer from West Point military academy that he has discussed over the years was “informal.”

“It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point,'” he said.

Carson spent much of the day slamming media reports of his past. During a combative interview Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” he said the network’s reporting of his past was a “bunch of lies.”

“This is a bunch of lies, that is what it is,” Carson told Alisyn Camerota when she asked about the report by Scott Glover and Maeve Reston in which they spoke to people Carson grew up with. “This is a bunch of lies attempting to say I’m lying about my history. I think it’s pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted.”

Carson’s personal narrative — a centerpiece of his campaign and star power — has long revolved around his accounts of his violent past and descriptions of the healing powers of his faith.

In a story published on Thursday, CNN reported that childhood friends of Carson were surprised about violent incidents he has described in a book, public speeches and interviews and had no recollection of such events. Glover and Reston spoke with nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson, and none had any memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.

On “New Day,” Camerota pushed back on Carson’s argument that the reporters did not talk to people who knew him earlier than high school, but Carson rejected that and launched into an aggressive attack on the media. He accused the media of not scrutinizing President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to the same degree.

“The vetting that you all did with President Obama doesn’t even come close, doesn’t even come close to what you guys are trying to do in my case, and you’re just going to keep going back, ‘He said this 12 years ago’ — it is just garbage,” Carson said. “Give me a break.”

Reston and Glover repeatedly approached the Carson campaign during their reporting and again before publication of the story. But the campaign staff declined to comment or to assist them in locating classmates or victims of violence who could provide insights about Carson’s past.

On “New Day,” Carson did not explain which aspects of the story he feels are incorrect.

CNN’s story pointed out that none of the people interviewed challenged the veracity of his accounts, but said they were surprised at them and did not reflect the youth that they knew.

Meanwhile, Politico published a story midday Friday claiming that the Carson campaign admitted that he “fabricated” an account of applying and being admitted to West Point — a headline the outlet later softened.

Carson spokesman Doug Watts said the Politico story was an “outright lie.”

In his autobiography, Carson did not explicitly say he applied to the school.

“Afterward, Sgt. Hunt introduced me to General (William) Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point. I didn’t refuse the scholarship outright, but I let them know that a military career wasn’t where I saw myself going,” Carson wrote.

Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager, said the candidate has “always been clear that he never applied. He gracefully let them know that medicine was his calling.”

“It’s clear that what the Politico writer, with what he was trying to gain with the headline, did not substantiate it with his article,” Williams told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Politico also reported that West Point would have a record of whether he applied in 1969. But West Point spokeswoman Theresa Brinkerhoff told CNN there would be no records about Carson’s interaction with the school unless he actually enrolled. Files on potential cadets from that time would have only been kept three years unless the person became a student, she said.

“No matter what at this point, because the records were so many years ago, we wouldn’t have anything on him,” she said.

While an official letter of admission would have come from the adjutant general of the Army, who was not Westmoreland, she said it was common for top military officials to recruit the best and brightest high school students. And she said she could imagine that the school’s lack of tuition — as a federally funded institution — could have been communicated or interpreted as a scholarship.

“I wouldn’t find that odd, that a general would pursue a discussion to kind of talk to him and say, ‘Do you know what West Point would offer you?’ And if you’re using general terminology to a 17-year-old, I could see how you would call them scholarships. We don’t use that terminology, (but) I could see how that could occur,” Brinkerhoff said.

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