Ill. Sen. hopeful, Mark Kirk, lies about a military claim

Illinois Senate Candidate Mark Kirk

Not good.

By Christopher Wills

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – On a weekend dedicated to honoring military service, Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk found himself on the defensive over his past claims that he was named the U.S. Navy’s intelligence officer of the year, an award he never won.

For years, Kirk and his staff have said he was officer of the year. Now, the Republican, who’s in a tough race for President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat, acknowledges that isn’t true and says his official biography incorrectly described an award won by his unit, not Kirk personally.

Kirk’s Democratic opponent called it proof that Kirk is a “typical Washington politician” who can’t be trusted. Some veterans scolded Kirk on Sunday.

“It’s not right, but I don’t hold that in the disregard I would as someone claiming they served in Vietnam when they didn’t or won the Purple Heart when they didn’t,” said Jules Spindler, commander of the Illinois chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Kirk’s disclosure comes as politicians face heightened scrutiny of their military records, thanks to a Connecticut Senate candidate wrongly saying he had served in Vietnam.

The campaign for Kirk lashed out at his opponent, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, calling him a “failed mob banker” — a reference to the Giannoulias family’s now-shuttered bank, which made some loans to people with criminal backgrounds.

The Washington Post story that first revealed Kirk’s inaccurate statements said the newspaper started asking questions after receiving complaints from a representative of the Giannoulias campaign. The Kirk campaign seized on that connection.

“I understand politics is a tough business, but this attack orchestrated by Alexi Giannoulias is a disgrace,” Kirk said Sunday on a campaign blog. “If Alexi wants to make this race about my military record, I’m happy to have the debate.”

Kirk has made his 21 years of service in the Navy Reserves a key part of his campaign. He mentions it in most speeches and news releases.

The claim that he was intelligence officer of the year has been repeated frequently.

Both his campaign website and his official congressional site included the claim, although it has now been removed. A spokesman said earlier this year that Kirk won the award, and news reports using the description date back at least to 2003.

C-SPAN footage shows Kirk referring to himself as intelligence officer of the year during a 2002 hearing.

Kirk now says the name of the award was simply reported incorrectly in his official biography.

Instead of stating he was named intelligence officer of the year, he said, the biography should have said the unit he led was given the Navy’s Rufus Taylor Intelligence Unit of the Year award in 1999.

This is not the first time Kirk’s military service has become an issue in the campaign.

Last year, Kirk noted on Twitter that he was working at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center. After critics questioned whether it was appropriate for the candidate to announce that, Kirk said he would no longer send Twitter messages while on active duty.

And more recently, video surfaced that showed Kirk saying he commands the Pentagon’s war room, which isn’t accurate. Instead, Kirk oversees intelligence activities there.

A Giannoulias aide suggested Kirk was intentionally inflating his credentials.

Kirk’s responses “raise even more questions than they answer about a troubling pattern from a typical Washington politician,” Giannoulias spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said Sunday.

Kirk’s admission came just two weeks after a national furor over Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal incorrectly saying he had served in Vietnam. Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, served in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War but never left the United States. He sometimes spoke as if he had been stationed in Vietnam.

Kirk is battling with Giannoulias over a seat now held by Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the post after Obama won the White House. Burris decided not to seek a full term amid public anger that he accepted the appointment from scandal-plagued former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

With no incumbent in the race and a Democratic nominee weakened by his family bank’s failure, Republicans think they have a strong shot at picking up the seat.

One Illinois veteran said he was disappointed by Kirk but probably would still vote for him.

“It seems to me like if you see a politician who is actually telling the truth these days, you wonder where he came from,” Lyle Gaddis, a 76-year-old veteran of the Korean War, said from his home in Shelbyville.


Associated Press Writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report from Chicago.


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