Ben Carson’s campaign has admitted that he never applied to West Point, despite his claim in his autobiography that he got a full scholarship to the military academy, MSNBC has confirmed.
A spokesperson at West Point initially told Politico, which first reported the story, that the school had no record of Carson applying, let alone gaining acceptance.
On Friday, after the story surfaced, Carson told The New York Times that he doesn't "remember all the specific details," adding "Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me — they could get a scholarship to West Point. But I made it clear I was going to pursue a career in medicine." He insisted the back and forth with the school was "an informal 'with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.'"
Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman at West Point had said the academy had no records that Carson began the application process and that "If he chose to pursue (the application process) then we would have records indicating such." It appears possible, however, that if Carson were nominated for admission but chose not to apply, records of that would not have been kept, according to a statement sent to NBC News by West Point.
Campaign manager Barry Bennett said that Carson was introduced to people at the school who told him they could get him an initial appointment because of his ROTC record, and while he “considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”
However, in his book, “Gifted Hands,” Carson wrote that he received a full scholarship to the military academy after meeting with Gen. William Westmoreland for dinner in 1969. At the time of the meeting, Carson was in high school in Detroit and a member of ROTC.
Bennett said, “I would argue strongly that an appointment is indeed an amazing full scholarship. Having ran several congressional offices, I am very familiar with the nomination process.” Bennett added that Carson and Westmoreland did meet but Carson "can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer."
Up until this point, Carson has maintained he had been accepted into the school. Back in August, he responded to a questioner on Facebook who wanted to know if it was true that he was offered a slot at West Point after high school. Carson responded, "...that is true. I was the highest student ROTC member in Detroit and was thrilled to get an offer from West Point. But I knew medicine is what I wanted to do. So I applied to only one school. (it was all the money I had). I applied to Yale and thank God they accepted me. I often wonder what might have happened had they said no."
Carson, who has emerged as a front-runner in recent polls, had already been facing questions about his past, including claims that he had a violent childhood, even as some organizations have tried — and failed — to verify his account.
His rival, Donald Trump, immediately took a dig at Carson after the story about West Point surfaced. “WOW, one of many lies by Ben Carson! Big story,” he tweeted. Several in the conservative media also said going forward the story is likely to be a big thorn in the Republican's side. "Okay, this actually could (i.e. this will) be a problem for Ben Carson," tweeted GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Breitbart's John Nolte wrote, "If this is true, Carson is done." Red State's Erick Erickson joined in, calling the news "The Beginning of Ben Carson’s End."
Ret. Col. Jack Jacobs, a military analyst who teaches at West Point told msnbc that "It's astonishing somebody would fabricate something as easily checked as this and then run for public office," adding that Carson's use of the term "full scholarship" should have raised red flags. "The education is free and you get a small stipend. Nobody calls it a full scholarship."