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National

Adviser Armstrong Williams Sheds Light On Carson's Campaign

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In tonight's Republican debate in Milwaukee, front-runner Donald Trump will, of course, be closely watched and so will his closest competitor, Ben Carson. With Carson's rapid rise in the polls, his life story has come under intense media scrutiny in recent days. The Yale-educated neurosurgeon was forced to back down on his claim that he was offered a full scholarship to the West Point Military Academy, admitting that he never actually applied to West Point. And Carson has faced questions about whether he really tried to stab a classmate as a teenager, a moment he has characterized as a turning point in his life. We're joined now by the man who knows Ben Carson very well, his adviser and business manager, Armstrong Williams. Thank you for joining us.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Good morning, and what you just reported was not true, by the way.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I know there's subtleties in all of these stories. Tell me what exactly Ben Carson is saying about this - these two...

WILLIAMS: Well, when Dr. Carson is - 50 years ago - incredible academic scores - was in Detroit with Gen. Westmoreland, Gen. Westmoreland made it clear to him that if he applied to West Point, he would be accepted and anyone who applies to West Point gets a full scholarship. That's no different than someone recruiting an athlete. And imagine a young black kid 50 years ago with those types of scores - they would've bent over backwards to get him in that school. But he only had $10 to apply. And he applied to Yale because his only ambition in life was to be a medical doctor. So he never applied, and it was a full scholarship, and he would've been accepted.

MONTAGNE: Right. Well, let me just ask this though - this - call question of this stabbing -pathological temper is how Ben Carson described himself. But when CNN did an investigation and talked to a lot of his friends, they could not turn up anybody who remembered this knife stabbing incident. Again...

WILLIAMS: All you needed to do - I know we only have a little time - last night on NBC News, which showed his journalistic integrity, they went back to Parade magazine with a cover story of his mother and his brother. And in that story, his mother absolutely said in this story there was a belt buckle stabbing. And she said you are running into a disastrous pattern here and it must stop. Again, NBC showed the facts that had actually happened because his mother stated it 20 years ago.

MONTAGNE: Let me just ask you one thing, though. Ben Carson is running not on his successes as a political person because he's never held office. He's running on who he is. Are any of these questions about who he is hitting home, do you think, among voters?

WILLIAMS: Dr. Carson should be vetted. He should be thoroughly vetted. He has no legislative record. And this is not something he should be sensitive about - the fact that people can only vet his biography. They can only vet his history as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. The only thing Dr. Carson has said - saying to the media, because of your integrity, vet us fairly. Do not come up with bogus stories that are untrue, uncorroborated. He has to understand - he has to go this process, and there is a certain expectation. But there's also a certain expectation for people like Politico and others not to do a hit job when they know what they're absolutely doing is fabricating lies.

MONTAGNE: Well, we only have 30 seconds, Mr. Williams, may I just ask you quickly, do you think this is hurting him, yes or no?

WILLIAMS: $4 million over the last week. He's surging in the polls again. Unfortunately, it's benefiting him because Dr. Carson cares about his credibility and his reputation. But no, it will not harm him. It will only cause him to soar even more 'cause the American people see it for what it is.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Armstrong Williams writes a nationally syndicated conservative newspaper column. He also serves as an adviser to and business manager for Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST
In an earlier version of this conversation, our host said: "We've had Gen. [William] Westmoreland say he didn't meet Ben Carson." That was a mistake. Westmoreland died in 2005. There is no indication that he ever commented about whether he did or did not meet Carson in 1969.