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Walsh campaign: Senator won't withdraw from race over plagiarism allegations

Former Montana adjutant general's 2007 U.S. Army War College thesis draws scrutiny

Jul. 24, 2014 - 07:58PM   |  
John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh speaks to reporters Jan. 26 in Helena, Mont. The Democrat's thesis written for the U.S. Army War College contains unattributed passages that appear to be taken word-for-word from previously published papers. Walsh faces Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines on Nov. 4. (Matt Volz / AP)
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HELENA, MONT. — Sen. John Walsh remained steadfast Thursday amid allegations he plagiarized a research project required for a master’s degree, winning fresh backing from fellow Democrats in Montana and the governor who appointed him to the Senate earlier this year.

The revelations that Walsh included both conclusions and verbatim passages from the writings of other scholars in his 2007 U.S. Army War College thesis, known as a strategy research project, “will not change Senator Walsh’s commitment,” his campaign said.

Asked if Walsh was considering abandoning his race for election to the Senate against Republican Rep. Steve Daines, campaign spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said: “Absolutely not.”

Support for Walsh also arrived from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who said he had no knowledge of the plagiarism when he appointed the former head of the Montana National Guard and its lieutenant governor to the Senate in February.

“Senator Walsh has a long history of fighting for Montanans, both at home and in combat,” Bullock said. “He deserves respect for his courage on our behalf.”

Walsh, the only senator who served in the Iraq war, is seeking election in a race that top Democratic strategists — prior to the plagiarism revelations — saw as an uphill battle and unlikely to provide one of the seats the party needs to hold onto its majority.

There is only a short time for Walsh, Bullock and their Democratic colleagues to decide whether the allegations are too toxic for Walsh to survive. A candidate has until Aug. 11 to withdraw from this year’s contest, and the state party has until Aug. 20 to name a replacement candidate, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said Thursday.

If Walsh decides to drop out after the ballots are certified on Aug. 21, a new candidate can’t be appointed and Walsh’s name will stay on the ballot, she said.

But pulling out of the race wasn’t a consideration Thursday. Montana Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Watt said Walsh “took responsibility” for his mistakes and the party looks forward “to standing and fighting with him.”

Bullock appointed Walsh in February when Democratic Sen. Max Baucus resigned to become ambassador to China. Republicans and some Democrats blasted the appointment, saying it was made without transparency and was designed to give Walsh a boost in the midterm elections.

Bullock spokesman Kevin O’Brien said the governor’s 2012 campaign reviewed Walsh’s public statements, records and spoke with individuals who served with Walsh before asking him to join the ticket.

“This didn’t come up,” O’Brien said.

The plagiarism allegation is the second potentially damaging issue raised this year about the senator’s 33-year military career, which has been a cornerstone of his campaign. It was first questioned in January when records revealed the Army reprimanded him in 2010 for pressuring Guardsmen to join a private association for which he was seeking a leadership role.

“It goes right to his strength — his military record and his integrity,” said Montana State University political science professor David Parker. “He was willing to take somebody’s words and make them his own. That’s a question of honor.”

Walsh said that when he wrote the thesis, he had post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq, was on medication and was dealing with the stress of a fellow veteran’s recent suicide.

“I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor,” Walsh said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. “My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”

He said he didn’t plagiarize but that his thesis contained “a few citations that were unintentionally left out.”

Walsh submitted his thesis, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” nearly two years after he returned from Iraq and about a year before he became Montana’s adjutant general overseeing the state’s National Guard and Department of Military Affairs.

The first page borrows heavily from a 2003 article in Foreign Affairs, while all six of the recommendations Walsh listed at the end of his paper are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Another section is nearly identical to about 600 words from a 1998 paper published by a research institute at Harvard University.

All students attending the Army War College must complete a strategy research project, which the school describes in its curriculum as “an opportunity to enhance independent thinking, research, inquiry and writing.”

Several messages left with the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, school were not returned Thursday. The New York Times reported the college was launching an investigation into Walsh’s work.

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