Sen. John Walsh’s (D-Mont.) political career appears to be over, but plagiarism allegations could have far-reaching implications for his military career, too.
Walsh, who was the upper chamber’s lone Iraq War veteran, withdrew from the Senate race this week after reports he allegedly plagiarized roughly a quarter of his 14-page Army War College master's thesis.
The appointed senator already had an uphill battle against Rep. Steve Daines (D) for a full term, and now Republicans are all but guaranteed to pick up the seat.
"The 2007 research paper from my time at the U.S. Army War College has become a distraction from the debate you expect and deserve. I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. senator," Walsh announced Thursday.
The allegations, reported last month by The New York Times, carried enough weight for the Pennsylvania-based school to look into them and refer the case to its academic review board, a panel of faculty members who will examine the evidence and make a recommendation on possible disciplinary action to the school’s leadership, according to a statement by the college.
According to media reports, that leg of the investigation is set to begin Aug. 15.
The Defense Department and U.S. Army inspectors general will be notified in advance of the panel’s findings, but ultimately disciplinary action rests with the college, according to a source.
Depending on what the review board recommends, potential consequences range from the school taking zero action to revoking Walsh’s master’s degree in strategic studies, the source said.
Spokeswomen for the War College and the Pentagon’s IG office declined to comment.
Stripping a graduate of his degree is the “strongest penalty the school can actually impose on a student. It is by no means a small deal,” according to retired Army Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, a graduate of the War College.
“If you’re at the War College you’ve been selected through a very rigorous process to be there as a student," said Barno, who is now a senior fellow and Responsible Defense Program co-director at the Center for a New American Security.
“You’ve been in a system that for decades has maintained that integrity is the highest value you can have as an officer and clearly a case of plagiarism that’s substantiated is a very serious violation of an officer’s integrity,” he added.
The War College has revoked the diplomas of eight former students since 1990, according to the school’s statement. Six were for plagiarism and two were for misconduct.
Any plaques bearing his name could also be removed from the metal plate at the front of the college, it adds.
Barno described the Walsh investigation as "somewhat shocking" inside the military given his prominence. He added that if the lawmaker is found guilty his actions would be viewed as “fairly disgraceful behavior” by the officer corps.
However, if Walsh is exonerated, he will be “welcomed back fully into the community,” Barno predicted.
“Even within the military you’re considered innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
On Friday a spokesman for the Montana National Guard, which Walsh is now retired from, said the service has no current plans to launch its own investigation into the plagiarism charges.