Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Will Mitchie's escape from military service be the nail in his political coffin?

Former Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo, whose investigation helped defeat former Governor Ernie Fletcher, has re-opened the issue of Mitch McConnell's military service.

A prominent Democrat questioned Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s military service — specifically his discharge from the Army Reserves — as McConnell launched his latest commercial Tuesday criticizing veterans’ health clinics with ties to his Democratic opponent.

Democratic state Rep. Greg Stumbo, the former Kentucky attorney general, called on McConnell to release his military discharge records.

“Elections should be about informed choices. He’s obviously not proud of his record, Sen. McConnell isn’t, or he would have shown it by now,” Stumbo said. “Something isn’t correct about it that might cause a lot of people, including veterans, to take a second look at him.”

McConnell enlisted in the Army Reserves in July 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War but received a medical discharge after less than six months for an eye condition called optic neuritis, according to limited information that has been made public.

(More after the jump)

Questions about McConnell’s military service have popped up toward the end of each of McConnell’s last three elections. After his 2002 opponent, Lois Combs Weinberg, claimed McConnell may have received “preferential treatment,” the Herald-Leader reported that McConnell’s eye problems led to a hospitalization before McConnell enlisted in the Army Reserves and that the condition has flared up occasionally since then.

“If Lunsford wants to question the senator’s honorable discharge, the Army’s decision and the Herald-Leader’s 2002 reporting on this subject, he should do it himself and not hide behind surrogates,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell in Washington.

Lunsford declined to touch the subject. “This campaign has been one about change — about the bigger issues,” he said.

But Stumbo — Lunsford’s running mate in the 2007 governor’s race — said Lunsford, should use it as a campaign issue. Lunsford served five years in the U.S. Army Reserves in the 1970s. McConnell has brought the scrutiny upon himself, Stumbo said.

“I’ll tell you how sorry he is, he’s sending young men and women to die in Iraq and Afghanistan and he will not share with the people of Kentucky how he got out of military service — how in the height of the Vietnam War he was able to dodge military service,” Stumbo said Tuesday before an event for Lunsford in Paris.

Stumbo said he doubted that McConnell was discharged for medical reasons.

“I think he either had a personal issue that they threw him out of the armed services and military or he had a powerful member of his party or somebody get him out,” he said. “I don’t know why you get released from the Army at the height of a war unless you know somebody or unless you did something real bad.”

The only record of McConnell’s military discharge that has been publicly released was an Aug. 10, 1967, letter from then-U.S. Sen. John Cooper, a Somerset Republican for whom McConnell interned in 1964. Cooper’s letter to the commanding general at Fort Knox said McConnell was being medically discharged for optic neuritis, according to the Sept. 11, 2002, Herald-Leader.

McConnell’s former chief of staff Hunter Bates told the Herald-Leader six years ago that Cooper wrote that letter to “expedite a discharge” at the request of McConnell’s father after the Army informed McConnell his condition was grounds for leaving the military.

Read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic.