POLITICS
10/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Camp Can't Get Story Straight On Bailout

At the same time that Sen. John McCain was saying that he didn't deserve credit for getting an economic bailout package to the brink of completion, his campaign's chief strategist was arguing that the Senator played an integral role.

Appearing on Meet the Press, McCain aide Steve Schmidt offered a bound-to-be-disputed version of what happened this week.

"When Senator McCain came back to Washington, there had been no deal reached," he said. "What Senator McCain was able to do was to help bring all the parties to the table, including the House Republicans... he came back and he listened and he helped put together the framework of getting everybody to the table which was essential in getting the package [together]."

The remarks conflicted deeply both with contemporaneous testimony and what the Senator himself was declaring at the very same moment on ABC's This Week.

"Whether I helped or hurt, I'll be glad to accept the judgment of history, but I'm never going to not get engaged when the taxpayers and middle class of America are in danger of losing everything literally that they've worked all their lives for," McCain told host George Stephanopoulos. "I'm going to be out working on it. I won't claim a bit of credit, okay, if that makes them feel better. But I'm going to be there working and trying to help solve this crisis."

Indeed, news accounts of what occured during the bailout negotiation suggest that McCain played a passive and, perhaps, even detrimental role in the process. According to an account in the New York Times on Saturday, while officials were working out a compromise, McCain spent most of his day in his home in Virginian and, alternatively, at his campaign office.

"He's calling members on both sides, talking to people in the administration, helping out as he can,'' said Mark Salter, McCain's close adviser. "He can effectively do what he needs to do by phone.''

And yet, despite his own aide admitting that he worked through telecommunications, McCain declared on ABC that he came back to Washington because he "wasn't going to phone it in."

"America is in a crisis of almost unprecedented proportions," he said. "I should be doing whatever little I can to help this process."

It was all a very a perplexing rendering of events. The truth was that, at the very moment a final compromise on the package was being reach, McCain and his wife, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his, were caught dining in a posh Washington D.C. hotel.

Certainly, aides to Barack Obama were incredulous about the alternate versions of reality being presented from the McCain camp.

"When this crisis emerged, Senator McCain's first reaction was to say the economy is fundamentally strong," said chief strategist David Axelrod. "The next day, he suggested a commission to study this. And by eight days later, he said it was such a crisis that he was going to suspend his campaign. He showed up a day later in Washington... It isn't clear what his role was. So it's a little bit of fiction to now claim credit for it. That's not the important thing, though. The important thing is that the principles that Senator Obama outlined originally are now embraced and taxpayers will be protected."

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