After two weeks of getting pounded over plagiarism charges, Paul on Tuesday used a new tactic to defend himself:
Footnotes. Lots and lots of footnotes.
In an address at The Citadel military academy in South Carolina, Paul, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, sharply criticized President Barack Obama's policies in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Pakistan.
Then his aides emailed the speech transcript to hundreds of reporters in Washington and beyond. It had 33 footnotes, with virtually every assertion linked to a book, an article, a congressional report, a bill or other document in order to support it.
The problem is that the blizzard of footnotes could raise questions about whether Paul is stretching the truth rather than simply lifting it.
Some of the cites clearly document Paul's statements: His claim that 70 percent of Americans oppose arming Islamic rebels in Syria? That's from a Pew Research Center poll released June 17, 2013.
But other cites appear to stop short of fully supporting what Paul said.
For instance, in a section claiming that the U.S. is sending arms to Islamic radicals in Syria, Paul said: "Regardless, the United States government should not, even if indirectly, be arming al Qaida. But this administration is currently moving ahead with plans to do precisely that, without the specific authorization of Congress."
That sentence ends with Footnote No. 21, which points to a Sept. 11, 2013 Washington Post article.
The Post story, however, says nothing about U.S. weapons going to al Qaida. The closest it comes to making that claim, in a broad story about the CIA starting to deliver arms to Syrian rebels, is an assertion that the aid had been delayed partly by "officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists."
Those fears might have been overcome or otherwise dispelled. They might have been unfounded. The Post article says nothing more about the concerns.
Similarly, in criticizing then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, Paul said: "When Hillary Clinton was asked for more security, she turned the Ambassador down."
That claim is followed by Footnote No. 27, which cites a May 8, 2013, blog on the Web site of The Hill, a widely read political newspaper in Washington.
But the Hill's article doesn't support Paul's claim and, in fact, appears to rebut it.
After referencing a report by House Republicans criticizing Clinton over the Benghazi attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, The Hill reported:
"But the report may have overreached when it said it had evidence that Clinton had personally signed an April 2012 cable turning down then-Ambassador Gene Cretz’s request for more security. All State Department cables from Washington bear the secretary’s automatic signature, the State Department said."
The plagiarism allegations against Paul started two weeks ago with TV and online reports that two of his earlier speeches had contained sections lifted from Wikipedia material. Then, last week, the Web site buzzfeed.com reported that an opinion column Paul had published on drug sentencing in the Washington Times was almost exactly the same as an earlier op-ed piece by Dan Stewart in The Week, a political magazine.
That led the Washington Times to end Paul's column.
Paul at first angrily denied the plagiarism charges, dismissing them as "attacks from haters" and "insults." He even wished he could challenge the charges' purveyors to duels.
But then Paul told the New York Times that he would start adding footnotes to his speeches and other statements so that folks would leave him "the hell alone."
By Monday, at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., reported in the Charleston Post and Courier, Paul was more conciliatory.
"I'm not going to probably get Bibliographer-in-Chief, I will say that," Paul told reporters. "I'm probably not going to win any awards for footnoting, but we are going to get better. I am human. I made mistakes. We made errors, but what I think is unfair is to call me dishonest. I'm not dishonest."