WASHINGTON — A female telecommunications lobbyist who became part of an explosive story early this year about John McCain has broken months of silence to deny the main subtext of the account _ that she was suspected of being romantically involved with the Republican presidential candidate. "I did not have a sexual relationship with Senator McCain," Vicky Iseman told the National Journal magazine.
Iseman was the subject of an article by The New York Times in February that said in 1999 McCain aides worried that the Arizona senator and the lobbyist may be having an affair. The newspaper did not publish any evidence of such a relationship.
The story alleged that McCain wrote letters and pushed legislation involving television station ownership that would have benefited Iseman's clients.
Iseman, 41, defended herself in what National Journal described as a series of interviews and e-mail exchanges.
"I never had an affair or an inappropriate relationship with Senator McCain, and that means I never acted unethically in my dealings with the senator." Iseman, who is a partner in the lobbying firm of Alcalde & Fay, told the magazine. "I have never even been alone with Senator McCain."
But her public emergence, coming less than three weeks before the election, also serves to remind the public about a story that had receded from memory. When the story broke, the allegations of sex and influence-peddling caused a sensation. McCain furiously denied the story and described Iseman as merely a friend.
"At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust," he said at the time.
Since then, McCain's relationship with the media has grown increasingly cool.
Iseman told the National Journal: "The New York Times set out to write a story about a 'romantic relationship' in exchange for legislative favors. ... Make the lobbyist a prostitute _ pretty heady stuff. The only problem was, they were wrong on all counts."
Iseman blamed former McCain adviser John Weaver of pushing the story to The Times. After the story broke, though, McCain aide Steve Schmidt told MSNBC that "nobody on the McCain campaign believes that John Weaver was the source on this."
Weaver was quoted in The Times acknowledging meeting with Iseman while working as a strategist for McCain in 1999. He told the newspaper that McCain's political team worried that as a lobbyist close to the Arizona senator she might hurt his image as a fighter against special interests.
In an e-mail to the Associated Press Thursday, Weaver said: "I feel sorry for the woman, but my responsibility was to protect my client, which I did."
At the center of the lobbying story were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Florida-based Paxson Communications _ which had paid Iseman as its lobbyist _ urging quick consideration of a proposal to buy a television station license in Pittsburgh. At the time, Paxson's chief executive, Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, also was a major contributor to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign.
McCain did not urge the FCC commissioners to approve the proposal, but he asked for speedy consideration of the deal, which had been pending for two years. Then-FCC Chairman William Kennard complained that McCain's request "comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process."
McCain wrote the letters after he received more than $20,000 in contributions from Paxson executives and lobbyists. Paxson also lent McCain his company's jet at least four times during 1999 for campaign travel.