** NEW UPDATES **
Media-Loving McCain Now Avoiding Press: Time magazine's Michael Sherer reports:
In the wake of a scandalous New York Times story suggesting a romantic fling with a lobbyist, McCain arrived at a Ford Focus car assembly plant with a decidedly tense grin plastered across his face. His campaign staff promptly separated anyone with a pen or a tape recorder from the candidate. "The McCain campaign decided who they wanted on the tour, and it's only photographers," a nice lady from Ford announced after a reporter spotted the candidate behind a car chassis and tried to approach him.
....At the end of the day, McCain boarded the plane with his wife, his staff, and his daughter, Meghan, who trailed an entourage of friends, bound for Indianapolis. On another night, he would have sauntered to the back to chew the fat with reporters. But on this night, he only came half-way down the aisle, keeping a safe distance. "Everybody happy?" he called out. "Fun day. Fun day." McCains eyebrows bounced up and down to signal his sarcasm.
His question, of course, was rhetorical. He didn't want to hear anything more. Before anyone could answer he had wheeled around and gone back to his seat, beyond the reach of reporters and their notebooks for just a while longer.
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum comments: "Look, there's no two ways about it it: this is very weird behavior. If there were really no story here, McCain wouldn't be avoiding reporters. He'd be yukking it up and insisting to a sympathetic press corps that he was the subject of a comically thin hit job from the Times. Instead he's acting almost like a caricature of a guilty man. What's going on here?"
McCain Caught In Contradiction: Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports:
A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.
On Wednesday night the Times published a story suggesting that McCain might have done legislative favors for the clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who worked for the firm of Alcalde & Fay. One example it cited were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 demanding that the Federal Communications Commission act on a long-stalled bid by one of Iseman's clients, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to purchase a Pittsburgh television station.
Just hours after the Times's story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff--and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," the campaign said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.
But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue," McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. "He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."
McCain's Closest Advisers Mostly Lobbyists: The Washington Post publishes another damning front page story highlighting McCain's deep ties to lobbyists:
[W]hen McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JP Morgan and U.S. Airways.
Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O Lakes, the UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae. [...]
In McCain's case, the fact that lobbyists are essentially running his presidential campaign -- most of them as volunteers -- seems to some people to be at odds with his anti-lobbying rhetoric. "He has a closer relationship with lobbyists than he lets on," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "The problem for McCain being so closely associated with lobbyists is that he's the candidate most closely associated with attacking lobbyists."
Public Citizen, a group that monitors campaign fundraising, has found that McCain had more bundlers -- people who gather checks from networks of friends and associates -- from the lobbying community than any other presidential candidate from either party.
More From NYT Editor Keller: Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor, tells NPR that the McCain piece was "not a gotcha story about some kind of quid pro quo." Read highlights.
Cindy McCain "Stands By Her Man": AP reports:
Cindy McCain did not hesitate as she stepped toward the microphone, taking her place in the history of political wives who stood by their men in the face of rumored or alleged marital infidelity.
"Well, obviously, I'm disappointed," she said, her voice low but clear and self-assured. "More importantly, my children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family, but disappoint the people of America. He's a man of great character."
She and her husband, likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain, emphatically denied suggestions in published reports that he had an affair with a lobbyist.
A coterie of wives has confronted the public pain of such an accusation. Smaller still is the band who, like Cindy McCain, have spoken out.
Dean Hammers McCain: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean "dove into the controversy surrounding the New York Times story indicating that John McCain may have had an improper relationship with a lobbyist," saying he believes McCain is part of the "culture of corruption" in Washington.
McCain, he charged, "is talking all the time about being a reformer and a maverick, and in fact, he has taken thousands of dollars from corporations, ridden on their corporate jets, and then turned around and tried to do favors for them and get projects approved. He has tons of lobbyists on his staff."
NYT Editor Bill Keller Stands By Story: From Media Bistro:
On the substance we think the story speaks for itself. In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported. On the timing: Our policy is we publish stories when they're ready. "Ready" means that the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats. This story was no exception. It was a long time in the works. It reached my desk late Tuesday afternoon. After a final edit and a routine check by our lawyers, we published it.
Statement From Vicki Iseman's Firm: Alcalde & Fay (Vicki Iseman's lobbying firm) president Kevin Fay:
"The allegations and malicious innuendo reported by the New York Times yesterday are completely and utterly false. Alcalde & Fay's relationship with Senator McCain has been professional, appropriate and consistent with his legislative, jurisdictional and constituent duties. The story is based upon the fantasies of a disgruntled former campaign employee and is without foundation or merit. Ms. Iseman is a hard working professional whose 18 year career has been exemplary and she has our full support. It is beneath the dignity of a quality newspaper to participate in such a campaign of character assassination."
McCains Hold Press Conference To Deny Allegations: Read the AP write-up here, or watch video:
McCain Releases 1,500-Word Response To NYT: "Aides to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have released a remarkable 1,500-word document outlining what his campaign calls 'some of the facts that were provided to The New York Times but did not end up in the story.'" Read more here.
Top McCain Aide Speaks About Role In Story: John Weaver, a top McCain aide until his resignation in July, talks to Politico:
The only on-the-record source the New York Times used in their John McCain story says he gave his quote to the paper in December and immediately shared it with the Arizona senator's top strategists.
John Weaver, formerly McCain's top strategist, tells Politico that after hearing repeatedly from Times reporters working on the story, he asked for written questions and then provided an e-mail response.
"They asked about the Union Station meeting and so I answered their questions," Weaver says. "I forwarded it to Steve, Charlie and Mark within minutes of sending it to the Times."
Steve Schmidt, Charlie Black and Mark Salter are all top advisers to McCain.
McCain's Daughter: Politics Is "Petty": Meghan McCain has posted the a blog entry in response to the accusations against her father:
Life is all about perspective. Having grown up in politics, I know it's an industry that, for all intents and purposes, is known for being dirty and cruel. And yet, despite it all (and I really mean it all) I feel so grateful and blessed for every single day and for the opportunities I've been given. I have an absolutely epic group of friends, wonderful parents I love and who love me in return, a brother who just returned safely from Iraq, and I have the honor of touring the greatest country in the world with a group of people I just can't get enough of. The list of blessings in my life could go on for days.
Why do I choose to be involved in politics right now? Because my father is different. He's compassionate, full of life, hilarious and is a beacon of integrity to myself and to so many others. Politics is rough, but I absolutely adore my Dad and this campaign and have never, ever stopped believing in him. It's just that simple.
A former campaign adviser described being instructed to keep Ms. Iseman away from the senator at public events, while a Senate aide recalled plans to limit Ms. Iseman's access to his offices.
In interviews, the two former associates said they joined in a series of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others.
Read the full NYT story here.
Ex-McCain Aide Says He Tried To Intervene: More details from the Washington Post:
Aides to Sen. John McCain confronted a telecommunications lobbyist in late 1999 and asked her to distance herself from the senator during the presidential campaign he was about to launch, according to one of McCain's longest-serving political strategists.
John Weaver, who served as McCain's closest confidant until leaving his current campaign last year, said he met with Vicki Iseman at the Center Cafe in Union Station and urged her to stay away from McCain. Association with a lobbyist would undermine his image as an opponent of special interests, aides had concluded.
Members of the senator's small circle of advisers also confronted McCain directly, according to sources, warning him that his continued relationship with a lobbyist who had business before the powerful Commerce Committee he chaired threatened to derail his presidential ambitions. ...
The aide said the message to Iseman that day at Union Station in 1999 was clear: "She should get lost." The aide said Iseman stood up and left angrily. ...
Concern about Iseman's presence around McCain at one point led to her being banned from his Senate office, according to sources close to McCain. ...
Who Is Vicki Iseman? Read full details about Vicki Iseman.
McCain Issues Statement: Just out from the McCain campaign:
"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.
"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."
Another McCain Aide Denies Story: Time's Ana Marie Cox talks to top McCain aide Mark Salter:
As for the story's claim that McCain's Senate staff worried, on the eve of the 2000 campaign, about the appearance of improprieties with Iseman, Salter was was dismissive: "There is ONE staffer with the authority and the ability to do this [to ban a visitor from the office]. And that's me. And I never did." Salter also said that the Senator would soon release statements from those people interviewed by the Times for the story -- "dozens" according to him -- who denied many of the facts alleged in the story (including Iseman's supposedly frequent presence in the Senate office), but who were not quoted in the piece. The Times also states that the lobbyist "accompanied" McCain to fundraisers. Salter was emphatic: "She ATTENDED McCain fundrasiers, she didn't ACCOMPANY McCain."
Washington Post Hinted At Story In December
Sen. John McCain said yesterday that he has "never done any favors for anybody -- lobbyist or special interest group," as his presidential campaign issued a statement denouncing allegations of legislative favoritism as "gutter politics."
The Arizona Republican has hired a prominent Washington criminal attorney, Robert Bennett, to deal with the matter. "What is being done to John McCain is an outrage," Bennett said in an interview.
Bennett said he sent prepared answers yesterday to written questions submitted by New York Times reporters who have spent weeks investigating questions about whether the senator did favors for a Washington lobbyist or her clients. She has also retained a lawyer, according to a knowledgeable source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing legal matters.
Read entire Washington Post story here