Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn is facing renewed scrutiny of his military record after an investigation by the Omaha World-Herald uncovered that the Republican had reached out to a friend with ties to the military to draft a Navy memorandum praising his service.
Osborn, who has been heavily campaigning on his military experience, crash landed a plane on the Chinese island of Hainan in 2001 after being attacked by a Chinese fighter. In an interview with PBS, Osborn explained that the nose of the plane had been shot off and “a runaway prop was missing large chunks and violently shaking,” but he managed to land the plane on Hainan without losing any members of the crew.
Landing the plane on Chinese land made him and the passengers prisoners of war and allowed China access to American plane technology. Osborn and his 24-person crew escaped capture after twelve days of intense interrogation. Osborn co-wrote a book on the incident and has used it in various advertisements to sell himself as a candidate capable of handling extreme pressure.
Some in the military have begun asking questions about the decision to land the plane, suggesting instead that allowing China such access to the aircraft in order to save the soldiers’ lives was a selfish move on Osborn’s part. Retired Navy captain Danny Mason told the World-Herald that Osborn should have flown the plane into the ocean even if it meant killing himself and the crew. “Our standing order was ‘If you can’t get back to the carrier, you put it down in the water… in the 20 years I was flying – any aircraft – you weren’t going to take it into China.” Taking the plane into Chinese territory was to surrender American technology to the Chinese and relinquish potentially dangerous information about the way American aircraft work.
To combat such an impression, Osborn’s campaign sent an official Navy memorandum to the World-Herald explaining that the events of Osborn’s deployment in China were not in violation of any standards.
The full memo claims that Osborn’s landing in China was “not in violation of any guidance or instruction promulgated by the Department of Defense” and that, in cases of emergency, “there is only one country in the Pacific AOR where landing is not authorized under ANY circumstance. China was not this country.”
The World-Herald reports today that that Navy memorandum was not official: the Navy could not verify the authenticity of the document, and its author claimed to have written the document as a favor.
Osborn told the newspaper that he asked friend John Comerford for a favor: to “please go back and get the instructions (for such missions) to show that what we did was right.” Comerford then went to an unidentified friend in the military, who claims he wrote the memorandum but did not clear it through the proper channels. According to the World-Herald, his immediate supervisor approved it, but the document “was not something that was intended to go through channels.”
The Navy told the World-Herald that they could not verify the document. Lt. Cmdr. Katie Cerezo, Navy spokesperson, told Breitbart News independently, “We cannot confirm the authenticity of this document. Shane Osborn was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Meritorious Service Medal for his actions on April 1, 2001, and was honorably discharged from the Navy.”
The controversy reflects upon what polls have shown to be among Osborn’s biggest strengths entering the race. An exclusive Breitbart News/The Polling Company poll found that Osborn was currently leading opponent Ben Sasse by eleven points, in large part due to Nebraska voters’ positive impression of Osborn’s military record. 49% of voters polled said they were more more likely to support Osborn when told the story of his military experience: that he was a Navy pilot detained in China in 2001 and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Meritorious Service Medal for his work.
Osborn has also been campaigning heavily on his military experience and particularly the incident in China. In one campaign ad, a narrator details how Osborn “endured Chinese interrogation for twelve days,” while Osborn promises to bring the same strength to the fight against Obamacare:
The World-Herald‘s report not only brings into question the lengths to which Osborn and his team went to retrieve an official clarification on his work in China – exposing concerns that the story could hurt the Osborn campaign – but enhances another report from the newspaper that some in the military questioned Osborn’s decision to land the plane.
Osborn continues to hold a lead in the race, but one that has been dwindling as the May 13 primary date approaches. He has denied to the World-Herald that his actions in China violated any Navy standards.