Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Hine vs Blumenthal

Following the publication of Richard Hine’s letter on this blog, three media stories emerged: one on George Gombossy’s blog; another brief mention by Kevin Rennie on his blog, and a story written by Brian Lockhart of the Hearst newspaper chain. The Journal Inquirer also reported the story.

In his letter, Hine recalled a moment, more than twenty years ago, when Attorney General Richard Blumenthal did him an extraordinary kindness. Hine was leaving for service in the Marines. There was at the time a possibility that Hine might be called to service in the Persian Gulf; his marriage was breaking up; and his daughter, the “apple of his eye” was terribly frightened at the prospect.

Blumenthal offered his private phone number to his daughter if ever she had gotten desperate or afraid. According to Hine’s letter, the offer was never taken up by his daughter, but it did put Hine under the obligation of friendship. At the same time, commiserating with Hine, Blumenthal told the departing Marine, according to the Hine letter, that he had been an enlisted Marine in Vietnam:

“Alison never called Dick. His act of kindness and compassion to my daughter and me I will never forget, and I am deeply indebted to him for life. We then talked about my possibly going to Iraq if the war went poorly. We then discussed the separation from family and employment, and we agreed I would be with my fellow Marines and friends. He then said, you’re a Major, and so it will be a little different for you than it was for me as an enlisted Marine in Vietnam. I was appalled and shocked, because I knew he had not been to Vietnam, yet just a moment before he had helped to console my daughter in an unsolicited act of kindness.”
Lockhart interviewed Hine;

“I wanted to make sure Blumenthal didn’t during his talk with Hine launch into some made-up recollection of the heat of battle, losing comrades, the bugs, the jungle, whatever.

“He said ‘you’ll have it easier. You’re a major, unlike when I was an enlisted man serving in Vietnam as a marine’, Hine told me. ‘He didn’t expound on that, no … What is in that letter is a direct quote. I remember that day as clear as can be. He didn’t expand on it and I had to get going.’

“But Hine also insisted: ‘He didn’t misspeak. He didn’t misstate. He lied to me, flat out.’”
Lockhart also drew out a response from the Blumenthal team:

“The Blumenthal campaign sent me the following response to Hine’s letter:

“’Dick has been asked and has answered questions about his military service thoroughly and extensively. Now his focus is to move on to the real problems and issues that concern the people of Connecticut. Dick recalls seeking to help and support Mr. Hine but that is his only memory of a conversation that occurred many, many years ago.’”

Blumenthal’s carefully modulated response is: I don’t recall, not the ringing denial that would put the charge made by Hine to bed. Blumenthal did recall “seeking to support Mr. Hine.”

A few remarks are in order.

There are only two possibilities: Hine made up his story; the story is true.

If Hine did make up the story, the attorney general should perhaps tease his memory a bit: He recalls his own kindness at the time well enough. In the absence of a timely claim by Blumenthal that Hine is spinning a fantasy, there is no need to question the veracity of Hine’s statement, which is not to say that Hine’s veracity will not be challenged by others.

On my own blog, one disinterested commentator finds it interesting that Hines has succumbed to what he calls “Chris Shays Syndrome.”

Shays, now retired from the U.S. Congress, has said he recalled Blumenthal misstating his service record and even felt tempted to warn Blumenthal, with whom he was friendly, of the peril of misstating his military record. Considering Blumenthal’s record thus far – a claim that he “misspoke” in the face of several instances in which, according to an unimpeachable media record, he falsely said that the served in Vietnam – why should any disinterested observer believe Blumenthal rather than Shays?

Hine’s recollection is precise and engraved on his memory. One is not likely to forget such assertion as were made by Blumenthal to Hine – under such circumstances as Hine has detailed in his letter. It’s a little like forgetting which roof you fell off of after you had taken a trip to the hospital. In times of emotional crisis such as that described by Hine in his letter, the “detail” of a false claim of service in Vietnam, following an offer of extraordinary compassion, would be impressed deeply in Hine’s cranial tissue.

Hine clearly felt himself under an obligation, because of a kindness Blumenthal had done at a time of emotional stress – Does this ring a bell? – and withheld his charge for many years, according to his own letter. But when the story broke, and Mr. Blumenthal persisted in his denials … well, there are tolerance limits for some Marines.

In any case, Hine’s claim is there and he will have to defend himself against a clear and unambiguous charge made by Mr. Blumenthal that he is lying – if that ever happens. My own impression is that the assault on Hine, when it comes, will be asymmetrical. Hine works for Blumenthal, and his whistleblowing might not be appreciated in certain quarters.

I interviewed Hine on the morning of June 7, before Mr. Gombossy's blog appeared. The claims Hine made in his letter seemed plausible to me, which is why it was printed on this blog. I knew Hine about a dozen years ago. Our paths had not crossed again until I received his letter the day before our interview. My latest impression of him is that he was the same honest, forthright and courageous Marine I knew a dozen years ago. He was not wearing a tin foiled hat at our most recent meeting. He showed great courage in coming forward.
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