INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. John McCain said Friday that while lobbyists serve as close advisers to his presidential campaign, they are honorable and he is not influenced by corruption in the system.
McCain, who has styled himself as an enemy of special interests, defended having lobbyists working for his campaign. He is the expected Republican presidential nominee.
"These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team," McCain told reporters following a town hall meeting in Indianapolis.
The issue of lobbying and influence has arisen in published reports, first in The New York Times and then in The Washington Post, suggesting that McCain had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist and advanced the interests of her clients. McCain on Thursday emphatically denied the reports.
Siding with McCain, the White House accused the Times of repeatedly trying to "drop a bombshell" on Republican presidential nominees to undermine their candidacies.
White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel noted at a Friday morning briefing that the story has received a lot of attention.
"I think a lot of people here in this building, with experience in a couple campaigns, have grown accustomed to the fact that during the course of the campaign, seemingly on maybe a monthly basis leading up to the convention and maybe a weekly basis after that, The New York Times does try to drop a bombshell on the Republican nominee.
For his part, McCain refused to comment on the White House statements.
"I don't have any more comment about this issue. I had a press conference yesterday morning, and I answered every question," McCain said.
"I'm moving on. I'm talking about the issues and the challenges of America and the big issues that Americans are concerned about. I addressed the issue and addressed every question that was addressed to me.
"I do not intend to discuss it further," he told reporters.
His aides had spent Thursday attacking the Times, but McCain said Friday: "My campaign is not doing that anymore."
Trying to turn attention to Democrats, McCain's campaign issued a press release Friday tweaking Sen. Barack Obama for saying in a debate Thursday night he would meet with new Cuban leader Raul Castro, brother of retiring communist leader Fidel Castro, without preconditions.
"Meet, talk and hope may be a sound approach in a state legislature," McCain said of Obama, a former Illinois state senator, "but it is dangerously naive in international diplomacy where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries wish us ill."
McCain was asked how he squares his image as a fighter of special interests with the fact that his senior campaign team is largely made up with lobbyists. McCain has battled to reform the system of influence in Washington through campaign finance restrictions, new ethics rules and opposition to the use of earmarks by members of Congress to fund pet projects.
"I square it one way," McCain said. "The right to represent interests or groups of Americans is a constitutional right. There are people that represent firemen, civil servants, retirees, and those people are legitimate representatives of a variety of interests in America.
"It's not whether the individuals, many of whom are very honorable _ it's whether a system or people have violated the trust of the people as representatives," he said.
The Times said McCain was not alone among presidential candidates to rely on lobbyists to help run his campaign. In McCain's case, the Times said, "Since a cash crunch last summer, several of them _ including his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who represented companies before Mr. McCain's Senate panel _ have been working without pay, a gift that could be worth tens of thousands of dollars." McCain serves on the Senate Commerce Committee.
"I'm proud of the record of many of my advisers. One small example, Charlie Black. Charlie Black was involved in the first Reagan campaign, and he's been involved in every national presidential campaign since," McCain said. Black is chairman of the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates.