Marco Rubio denies embellishing his family history for political gain

Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who is widely considered a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012, hit back Thursday at a Washington Post story claiming Rubio has inaccurately portrayed the circumstances under which his Cuban parents came to the United States.

Rubio said in a statement:

To suggest my family's story is embellished for political gain is outrageous. The dates I have given regarding my family's history have always been based on my parents' recollections of events that occurred over 55 years ago and which were relayed to me by them more than two decades after they happened. I was not made aware of the exact dates until very recently.

New documents, first publicly revealed earlier this week by "birthers" who are targeting Rubio's eligibility to one day occupy the White House, indicated that Rubio's parents didn't flee Cuba to escape Fidel Castro's regime in 1959 and weren't "exiles" forced off the island, as he has stated, according to the Post. (Click here to see a pdf of the documents from the St. Petersburg Times.) Rubio's parents were admitted for permanent residence and arrived in the United States in 1956, more than two and a half years before Castro took power.

Rubio says in his statement that he did not know the exact dates his parents arrived in the United States, but argues he never embellished his story. As of Thursday, Rubio's Senate website said that his parents "came to America following Fidel Castro's takeover."

In a Politico op-ed published Friday afternoon, Rubio accepted that he may have erred on the exact dates, but slammed the newspaper for accusing him of promoting a different date for political gain, saying no one voted for him because of the exact year they believed his parents arrived in the United States:

If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong, I accept that. But to call into question the central and defining event of my parents' young lives — the fact that a brutal communist dictator took control of their homeland and they were never able to return — is something I will not tolerate.

The Miami Herald, Rubio's hometown paper, jumped to his defense Friday and accused the Post of its own embellishments. Marc Caputo wrote on the Herald's politcal blog:

The actual story of the "flight" is far less emphasized than the fact that Rubio's an Hispanic Republican, an immigrant and an exile. So to suggest Rubio serially embellished the "dramatic" story of his parents fleeing Cuba could be a little too dramatic itself. And it might be an embellishment as well--absent more information clearly showing Rubio has repeatedly said his parents fled Castro's Cuba.

Caputo wrote that the Post didn't cite a single speech from Rubio that included an embellishment, and in the one speech used by the newspaper as evidence, Rubio was speaking generally about Cuban exiles, not specifically his parents. Caputo notes numerous instances during which Rubio said his parents arrived in the United States before Castro's rise to power, including in interviews with the Herald.

Caputo suggests Rubio may be guilty, but not of embellishment, of "failing to correct something in the news media that inured to his gain."

Other local journalists have expressed doubt about Rubio's defense. "Any self-respecting cubano sure as hell knows when his or her family arrived in the United States," Michael Miller wrote for the Miami News Times. "Heck, most can tell you the exact day."

Democrats are already using the controversy against Rubio. Democratic opposition research group American Bridge 21st Century released a video Friday afternoon that includes clips of Rubio saying his parents came to the United States in 1959 as well as instances of what the group calls Rubio's "embellishments."

Rubio, a tea party star, has been heavily courted to run for president or vice president but continues to deny interest in higher office, citing his desire to complete his term in the Senate.

Update 2:01 p.m. ET: This story was updated to include Rubio's opinion piece in Politico and American Bridge 21st Century's attack video.

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