Politico reported Friday that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson did not — as he has claimed repeatedly — receive a full scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In fact, Carson’s campaign admitted that not only was the former neurosurgeon not accepted into the prestigious military academy, but he never actually applied. This concession came after Politico obtained evidence from a West Point spokesperson that the academy has no record of Carson’s application or his admission — calling into question a key piece of the presidential hopeful’s personal history.
“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the city of Detroit,” Barry Bennett, Carson’s campaign manager, told 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.”
In his book, “Gifted Hands,” Carson describes a 1969 meeting with Gen. William Westmoreland — fresh off four years of directing the U.S. military strategy in Vietnam — that Carson said resulted in being offered a “full scholarship” to West Point.
“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC supervisors,” Bennett continued in his email to Politico. “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.”
Presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the Republican debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colo., last month. (Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)
It has also been noted by Politico and others that there is technically no such thing as a “full scholarship” to West Point, as the military covers the costs of all who are admitted to the elite academy.
The West Point spokesperson told Politico it’s entirely possible that Westmoreland spoke to the 17-year-old Carson and perhaps encouraged the young ROTC student to consider applying to the academy. However, Politico questions whether that fabled encounter with the famous general even took place.
According to “Gifted Hands,” Carson met Westmoreland in Detroit following the city’s Memorial Day parade, in which he’d been chosen to march. But Politico notes that U.S. Army records of Westmoreland’s schedule suggest that the general was in Washington on Memorial Day 1969 and did not make any trips to Detroit around that time.
Carson has hardly shied away from discussing his supposed West Point scholarship offer on the campaign trail. He defended the claim as recently as August 13 in a Facebook post in which he answered questions from supporters. In response to a question from someone named Bill who “wanted to know if it was true that I was offered a slot at West Point after high school,” Carson wrote, “Bill, that is true.”
“I was the highest student ROTC member in Detroit and was thrilled to get an offer from West Point,” he continued. “But I knew medicine is what I wanted to do. So I applied to only one school. (It was all the money I had.) I applied to Yale and thank God they accepted me. I often wonder what might have happened had they said no.”
Carson himself has not yet responded to the damning Politico report, but Republican rival Donald Trump wasted no time before expressing his excitement, tweeting Friday, “WOW, one of many lies by Ben Carson! Big story.”
The West Point story is just the latest of several Carson claims that have sparked scrutiny recently. But by Friday afternoon, the Politico report had become the subject of dispute itself.
ABC political director Rick Klein tweeted Friday afternoon that “Ben Carson’s campaign confirms to ABC News that he was never admitted, nor did he apply, to West Point.”
Yet, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly tweeted that Carson’s campaign manager told her show “The Kelly File” that “the Politico story is an outright lie” and that “the campaign never admitted to anything.” The Daily Caller also published a story attributing those same quotes to Carson communications director Doug Watts.
“[Carson] never said he was admitted or even applied,” Watts reportedly told the Daily Caller. “This is what we’ve come to expect from Politico.”
Conservative political commentator and Carson friend Armstrong Williams defended the candidate in an interview with the Washington Post, arguing that it’s Politico that is guilty of “shoddy journalism.”
Williams notes that Carson never claimed to have applied to West Point. In fact, Carson has said a number of times, in “Gifted Hands” and elsewhere, that he only had $10 to spend on college applications, forcing him to narrow his options to one: Yale.
“Dr. Carson boasts about his scores in ROTC. Westmoreland encourages him to apply,” Williams told the Post. “As Dr. Carson says, they were impressed by his scores, but he never applied. They said to him, we could get you in. This guy got into Yale — obviously he could have got in. The headline was a fabrication.”
This defense, as the Post’s Dave Weigel notes, is dependent on “a loose interpretation of the word ‘scholarship,’” which Carson does use to describe whatever opportunity he might have had at West Point.
Barry Bennett reportedly told the Independent Journal Review that Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, who wrote the contentious story, left out sections of the statement Bennett provided and got a number of key details wrong. According to Bennett, Politico’s claim that Carson admitted to fabricating his West Point scholarship was, in IJR’s words, “a gross misrepresentation.”
IJR wrote that Bennett said he’d emailed Cheney “five times afterwards, and suddenly he’s not available.”
The Carson campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment from Yahoo Politics.
In a statement published by the Washington Post, Politico said, “We stand by our story, which is a powerful debunking of a key aspect of Ben Carson’s personal narrative. The story online includes additional details now as well that bolster this account.”
The story’s original headline, “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship,” has been changed to read: “Exclusive: Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied.”