Heitkamp Staffer Accuses WWII Veteran of “Gutter Politics”


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is seeking re-election in November, in Rutland, N.D., Oct. 7, 2018. In North Dakota and other farm states, the partisan divide over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has nationalized the fight for the Senate, elating Republicans and worrying Democrats. (Annie Flanagan/The New York Times)

Yesterday I wrote a post about Lynn Aas, a WWII veteran who received the Legion of Honor award from France last year, who objected to Senator Heidi Heitkamp bragging about her attendance at that event on her Facebook page.

“Lynn is not happy that Heidi did this. We have posted a comment requesting that it be taken down,” David Aas, Lynn’s son, told me in an email. “Lynn wants to make it clear that no one from the Heitkamp campaign contacted him to ask for permission for this, and he does not want this to be viewed as an endorsement of her campaign.”

I reached out to Heitkamp’s staff for comment yesterday, but as is typical for them they didn’t respond to me. They did respond to Fox News, however, when the news network picked up my story. Their statement characterized Aas’ objection to the use of his image by the Senator as “gutter politics.”

“This story is wrong and is gutter politics at its worst. A link to a local news article was posted on Sen. Heitkamp’s Senate Facebook page about a ceremony she participated in last year for a WWII veteran to highlight a recognition he earned. An individual photo was not posted. The way social media works is that if you post a link to an article, the photo in the article also shows up in the post. Let’s talk about facts rather than distortions or political games. We took the post of the article down after the veteran’s son asked us to via Facebook,” said Abbie McDonough, Heitkamp’s U.S. Senate communications director.

“In fact, at the event, Mr. Aas joked with Sen. Heitkamp that he liked her, but isn’t going to vote for her. They both shared a laugh, and she retold the story at the event. In North Dakota, you can still recognize the service of an honorable man from a different political party without playing politics. Sen. Heitkamp will continue to work to make sure all veterans have the support, resources, and recognition they deserve and earned – despite others playing politics with our nation’s veterans,” she added.

I’m gobsmacked that Senator Heitkamp’s staff would attack Mr. Aas like this. The objection to the use of his image, and his story, in Heitkamp’s post came from him. I didn’t solicit it. I wasn’t even aware of his objection until his family alerted me to it.

And it wasn’t just that Heitkamp (or, more accurately, her staff) posted a link to a local news story which auto-populated with Aas’ image. It’s that they used Aas’ story, and his name, as well as his image in the heat of a campaign and at a moment when Heitkamp has been touring the state touting her record on veterans’ issues.

Aas didn’t want to be a part of that messaging. He should get to say that without being attacked by Heitkamp’s staff.