Beleagured GOP candidate John McCain's choice for personal lawyer in the emerging favors-for-lobbyist scandal, Bob Bennett, has a long record of defending tainted politicians and political figures ultimately found responsible for the transgressions of which they were accused.
Older brother of conservative moralist Bill Bennett, Robert S. Bennett gained wide notoriety by representing a host of beltway clients accused of wrongdoing including Clark Clifford, Paul Wolfowitz, Caspar Weinberger, Judith Miller and, most prominently, former President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals.
Bennett's services have traditionally ranged far beyond court-room defense as he's been aggressive in becoming the leading public face of his clients by forcefully arguing their innocence in the national media.
Indeed, in scenes eerily similar to those of a decade ago, Bennett was back on national TV Thursday afternoon offering a strong rhetorical defense of Senator McCain who has been under fire since publication Wednesday by The New York Times of a story that has rocked the presidential race. The Times story details McCain's close relationship during his 2000 campaign with a female telecom lobbyist and relates how his staff had to intervene to stop any potential embarrassment.
Despite Bennett's historical efforts at high-level political spin, his long list of famous clients have rarely escaped the taint he struggled so hard to thwart.
Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger escaped prosecution in the Iran-Contra scandal because he was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Former Democratic official Clark Clifford was spared indictment in the BCCI scandal only because of failing health.
Bennett also represented former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz who was eventually forced to resign following the uproar generated by his granting of favors to his girlfriend. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, also represented by Bennett, spent months in jail after she refused to disclose her sources in the Valerie Plame affair. Miller was also pressured to give up her newspaper post after her reporting on the run-up to the Iraq war was widely discredited.
Bennett's most famous client, Bill Clinton, wound up being impeached on charges that his lawyer had repeatedly and vigorously denied weren't true. After the Supreme Court ruled last decade that President Clinton could be sued for sexual harassment while in office, his hired legal gun, Bob Bennett, publicly telegraphed a thinly-veiled threat against plaintiff Paula Corbin Jones while making one of his myriad appearances on national TV.
Firmly insisting on Clinton's innocence, Bennett went on NBC's Meet The Press in January 1998 saying: "As my mother once said to me, be careful what you ask for -- you may get it." Bennett, who had been tirelessly defending Clinton in the national media added: "I had a dog like that, who just wanted to catch cars. And he successfully caught one one day. And I have a new dog."
Despite Bennett's warnings, Jones won a $850,000 settlement in the case from the then-president. As a result of the case, Clinton also had his license to practice law in Arkansas lifted for a five-year period. And despite Bennett's stewardship of the Jones case, it ballooned into the spectacle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal (during which Bennett continued to insist on his client's innocence.)
Bennett was called into the McCain case late last year when the Arizona senator first learned that The New York Times was developing the bombshell story published on Wednesday. Various reports have suggested that Bennett played a direct role in convincing the Times to at least postpone publication of the piece which by some accounts was ready to appear last Christmas.
When asked today by Chris Matthews of NBC's Hardball if allegations of McCain performing favors for lobbyist Vicki Iseman were true, Bennett responded: "No. I think it's a very bad story. It's like a big piece of cotton candy that looks attractive and when you bite into it, there's nothing there."
Bennett said he didn't know personally if McCain's former staffers met with Iseman during the senator's 2000 presidential campaign to warn her to stay away from the candidate as the Times alleges. " I don't know. Of course I wasn't there," Bennett told Matthews. "All I can tell you is that when I talked to the staff...they said it never happened."
Matthews then pressed Bennett directly, inquiring whether he has asked his client, Senator McCain, if he did or did not grant favors to Ms. Iseman in exchange for sex. Bennett took a dodge. "I never talk about my conversations with my clients," Bennett said. "John McCain has adamantly denied it. The lady has adamantly denied it. The New York Times really reports a lot of suspicion."
But Bennett told Matthews that McCain had no intention of suing the Times for libel.