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Biden misrepresented nearly every detail of his involvement in a 2008 war story

Joe Biden.
Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden, currently leading in the polls for the 2020 Democratic nomination, got almost every detail incorrect in the retelling of his participation in a 2008 war story at a campaign stop, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Biden has drawn criticism in recent months for public gaffes and slips, including mistakenly thinking he was vice president during the 2018 Parkland shooting and mistaking Margaret Thatcher for Theresa May.

Details: Per Biden's recollection, a 4-star general asked him to go to Kunar, a province in Afghanistan, while serving as vice president. The purpose of the trip was to award a Silver Star to a Navy captain who'd rappelled a 60-foot ravine while under fire to retrieve the body of a fallen American comrade.

  • Biden said he'd been told the trip was too dangerous, but stated: "We can lose a vice president,” adding, “We can’t lose many more of these kids.”
  • Biden also claimed that the captain was reluctant to take the award, quoting him as saying, "Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!" and adding, “Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!"

The intrigue: Almost every part of Biden's account appears false. Per interviews conducted by the Post, Biden got the "time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony."

  • Biden was actually a U.S. senator at the time, not the vice president.
  • The military member who performed the rescue was an Army specialist, not a Navy captain.
  • Biden never pinned a Silver Star on that service member.
  • The soldier received a Medal of Honor from President Obama 6 years later, which he graciously accepted.

Per the Post, "One element of Biden’s story is rooted in an actual event: The vice president did pin a medal on a heartbroken soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman, who didn’t believe he deserved the award."

  • Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesperson, said Biden had been "moved by Staff Sgt. Workman’s valor and selflessness, which is emblematic of the duty and sacrifice of the 9/11 generation of veterans who have given so much across countless deployments."

What he's saying now: Biden claimed he hadn't seen the Washington Post's article on Thursday, adding, “I don’t understand what they’re talking about, but the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said,” the Post and Courier reports. “He refused the medal. I put it on him, he said, ‘Don’t do that to me, sir. He died. He died.’”

  • Biden said on Thursday he did not believe he conflated his account of the events and that the "essence" of the story was accurate.

Go deeper: Joe Biden on the issues, in under 500 words