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Ben Carson Faces New Scrutiny as Front Runner

6 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Ben Carson maintains that he never wanted to run for President. This week may be reminding him why.

The retired neurosurgeon is one of three candidates who have never held elected office running for the Republican nomination. But both Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have had their past scrutinized during their time in business and, for Fiorina, her campaign for Senate.

For Carson, his week as the front runner has led to a new level of scrutiny that came like a shock of cold water. His Republican rivals, especially Trump, are less friendly than they used to be. The media is digging into his past. And because Carson has no political record to pore over, everyone is taking a closer look his oft-retold life story.

So far, the heat has come over three main issues: Carson’s involvement with a drug company, stories about childhood violence and a claim about a West Point scholarship.

The questions began during the Oct. 28 Republican debate on CNBC, when a moderator pressed him on his relationship with a drug company, Mannatech, that has been ensnared in legal troubles. “I have nothing to do with it. Zero,” Carson told TIME of the company. At the CNBC Republican debate, Carson reiterated, “I didn’t have an involvement with them.”

But “involvement” is a slippery term: Carson was never a paid endorser or spokesman for the company, according to his team and according to Mannatech, the Washington Post reports, but he did appear in promotional videos for the company and gave positive reviews of it in paid and unpaid speeches.

On Thursday, CNN uncovered seeming inconsistencies in Carson’s best-selling 1992 autobiography Gifted Hands. In the book, Carson describes “punching a classmate in the face with his hand wrapped around a lock, leaving a bloody three-inch gash in the boy’s forehead; attempting to attack his own mother with a hammer following an argument over clothes; hurling a large rock at a boy, which broke the youth’s glasses and smashed his nose; and, finally, thrusting a knife at the belly of his friend with such force that the blade snapped when it luckily struck a belt buckle covered by the boy’s clothes,” CNN describes.

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In the book, Carson says that those encounters led him to rededicate himself to God. But CNN reporters who talked with nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson said they have “no memory of the anger or violence” described in the book.

Carson slammed the coverage the following day, telling CNN, “This is a bunch of lies, that is what it is. This is a bunch of lies attempting to say I’m lying about my history, I think it’s pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted.”

Then on Friday, Politico posted a story claiming that Carson “fabricated” his “his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.” [Hours later Politico changed the story to remove the fabrication allegation.]

In Gifted Hands, Carson describes attending a Memorial Day parade in the spring of his senior year of high school. “Two soldiers who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Viet Nam were present,” he wrote. “More exciting to me, General William Westmoreland (very prominent in the Viet Nam war) attended with an impressive entourage. Afterward, Sgt. Hunt” — his high school ROTC director — “introduced me to General Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”

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Politico found that West Point had no record of Carson’s application or acceptance. But the Carson team told TIME the initial Politico story was “an outright lie,” saying, “Dr. Carson as the leading ROTC student in Detroit was told by his commanders that he could get an Appointment at the academy. He never said he was admitted or even applied.”

It is true that Carson never says in Gifted Hands that he formally applied to the academy; just that he was offered a nomination and full scholarship, but decided not to apply because he did not want a military career. He reiterated in a Facebook post over the summer that he had received an “offer” from the school, writing, “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.”

It is unclear how formal an “offer” could have been made by General Westmoreland or Sgt. Hunt to Carson, given that Carson did not apply to the school. Applications to West Point begin with nominations by a government or military official, and if the student is vetted and accepted, then all costs of attendance are covered.

“I agree the book passage is a bit unclear, but he was offered an appointment by a ROTC commander, and he rejected it,” added a spokesperson for the campaign. “That appointment, if he pursued it through the admissions process, is tantamount to a scholarship, which everyone at West Point receives.”

Carson is not the only Republican candidate facing renewed scrutiny. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has also been hit with renewed questions about his attendance in the Senate and old questions about credit card debt. But Rubio, who has been in public office for 15 years, has experience in brushing off difficult questions and, more importantly, has heard most of them before.

For Carson, who loves to talk about his lack of political experience, this week has been a harsh introduction to the bruising world of politics.

Read Next: Ben Carson Clarifies Story of West Point Scholarship Offer

See Ben Carson's Life in Photos

An early childhood photograph of Ben Carson.Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson's graduation from Southwestern High School, Detroit circa 1969.Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson with his mother, Sonya, and his future wife, Candy after his graduation from Yale University, circa 1973. Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Donlin Long, director of neurosurgery, left, and Dr. Ben Carson director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital, with brain model of the Siamese twins separated in a 22-hour surgery at Hopkins, Sept. 7, 1987, in Baltimore.Fred Kraft—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Ben Carson shares his personal story with middle school students on March 17, 2000 in Roswell, N.M.Aaron J. Walker—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr Dennis Rohner, Dr Beat Hammer, Dr Ivan Ng, Dr Ben Carson, Prof. Walter Tan, and Dr Keith Goh rehearse an operation to separate conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani from Iran at Raffles Hospital on July 5, 2003 in Singapore.Reuters
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Keith Goh (left) adjusts the frame on conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani as Dr. Ben Carson observes the start of neurosurgery proceedings at the Raffles Hospital on July 6, 2003 in Singapore. Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ten-year-old Indian twins Sabah and Farah sit beside Ben Carson (C), Managing Director, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, Anne Marie Moncure, their father Shakeel (L), their brother (R) and senior child specialist of Apollo Hospital, Dr. Anupan Sibal, on Oct. 4, 2005 in New Delhi.Raveendran—AFP/Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
George W. Bush presents a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ben Carson for his work with neurological disorders on June 19, 2008 at the White House in Washington.Alex Wong—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson officially announces his candidacy for President of the United States on May 4, 2015 in Detroit.Bill Pugliano—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson poses for a photo during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner on May 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall—AP
PresidBen Carson - Life in Picturesential Hopefuls Attend Southern Republican Leadership Conference
Ben Carson speaks during the Energizing America Gala at the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference May 22, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Okla.Alex Wong—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson at a political fund-raiser for GOP candidates on June 6, 2015, in Boone, Iowa. Jabin Bostford—The Washington Post/Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. Andrew Harnik—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson prays during church services at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines , Iowa. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson rides the Sky Glider with a reporter while touring the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson and his wife Candy on Aug. 18, 2015 in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson is greeted by supporters at a rally on Aug. 27, 2015 in Little Rock, Ark.Danny Johnston—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson at a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines.Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

This story has been updated to reflect the change in Politico’s original story.

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com