Sen. John Walsh speaks to reporters Jan. 26 in Helena, Mont. (Matt Volz / AP)
HELENA, MONT. — Sen. John Walsh remained steadfast Thursday amid an investigation into whether 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 U.S. Army War College said in a statement late Thursday it will examine evidence that Walsh included both conclusions and verbatim passages from the writings of other scholars in his 2007 paper, known as a strategy research project.
“The Army War College initiated its own analysis of the paper and determined this morning that there was reasonable cause to refer the case to the US Army War College Academic Review Board,” the statement said.
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.
Earlier in the day, Walsh’s campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Passalacqua, insisted her boss was staying in the race against Republican Rep. Steve Daines. He got the backing to do so from the state Democratic Party, whose spokesman, Bryan Watt, said Walsh “took responsibility” for his mistakes and the party looks forward “to standing and fighting with him.”
Gov. Steve Bullock said he had no knowledge of the plagiarism when he appointed the former head of the Montana National Guard and the state’s 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.”
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, said Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.
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.
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 Senate.
“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. He said he didn’t plagiarize but that his thesis contained “a few citations that were unintentionally left out.”
The first page of Walsh’s paper 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.
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.
College officials said the graduation status of a former student has been revoked six times for plagiarism since 1990. Walsh will have the chance to present material in his defense to the review board before it makes a recommendation to college administrators on whether any disciplinary action should be taken.
The college’s student handbook includes pages of warnings against plagiarism and details on how to properly cite sources, noting a student “should always quote when lifting five consecutive words from a source.”
“Sooner or later, academic dishonesty will be discovered,” the handbook states. “Plagiarism is a serious offense that can ruin a person’s reputation and career.”