5 Presidential Candidates Who Embellished the Truth About Their Past

Created: 09 November, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
2 min read

The questions Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is currently facing about a supposed full scholarship to West Point is a reminder that politicians have historically embellished or outright fabricated their personal stories.

The following are 5 presidential candidates who were not completely honest about their past:

1. John Kerry

While John Kerry was running for president in 2004, the Democratic candidate received scrutiny over his Vietnam War service.

At least as early as 1979, Kerry claimed he was in Cambodia in Christmas 1968 where President Nixon (who had not yet been inaugurated) stationed him in a "secret and illegal war in a neutral country." When the claim was contested, the Kerry campaign conceded he "on one occasion crossed into Cambodia," on an unknown date.

2. Lindsey Graham

As a senator, Graham has been one of the chamber's more hawkish members and for several years touted himself as a "Gulf War veteran," insinuating that he faced combat in the 1990-91 conflict. However, he was stationed in South Carolina as a lawyer during the active war. The Hill eventually challenged the claim and Graham's website now states he "served stateside."

3. Hillary Clinton

Recalling a 1996 trip to Bosnia as First Lady, Clinton told an Iowa group in 2008:

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

The Washington Post conducted a review of more than 100 news stories from the time of her trip and found no reports of security threats to Clinton. She eventually admitted that she "misspoke."

4. Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor claimed at a 2016 candidates debate:

"I was appointed United States attorney on September 10, 2001. And I spent the next seven years of my career fighting terrorism and putting terrorists in jail."

The White House press release announcing Christie's nomination was dated December 7, 2001. His campaign eventually retorted that Christie was contacted by the Bush administration on September 10 of its intention to nominate him. Not officially appointed until 2002, Christie perhaps hoped to bolster his national security credentials by juxtaposing himself with the 2001 terrorist attacks.

IVP Existence Banner

5. Joe Biden

While his plagiarism of a law school article is well-remembered, the current vice president, running for president in 1988, borrowed portions of a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock.

While politicians are hardly alone in borrowing lines, what distinguished Biden's case was that he fabricated parts of his family story to fit Kinnock's oration. For instance, Biden rhetorically asked:

"Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college?"

The New York Times later quoted Biden admitting, "There are Finnegans, my mother's family, that went to college."

Photo Credit: JStone / Shutterstock.com