The NYTimes is reporting tonight - and MSNBC interrupted into its regular programming to announce it as breaking news - that John McCain had a friendly relationship with a female lobbyist that was troubling enough to his staff that they confronted both the Senator and the lobbyist in an attempt to to "save him from himself," during the 2000 presidential campaign. Most of the story frankly is not about the relationship, it's about the ongoing allegations that his relationship with lobbyists generally - from the Keating 5 on - belies his image as a staunchly ethical reformer.
Mr. McCain’s confidence in his ability to distinguish personal friendships from compromising connections was at the center of questions advisers raised about Ms. Iseman.As a sex scandal, this is a bunch of crap. The scandal here is that Senator McCain is as vulnerable as the rest of them when it comes to lobbyist influence, and always has been.
The lobbyist, a partner at the firm Alcalde & Fay, represented telecommunications companies for whom Mr. McCain’s commerce committee was pivotal. Her clients contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns.
He introduced a bill to create tax incentives for minority ownership of stations; Ms. Iseman represented several businesses seeking such a program. And he twice tried to advance legislation that would permit a company to control television stations in overlapping markets, an important issue for Paxson.
In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain’s staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.
Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman. In an embarrassing turn for the campaign, news reports invoked the Keating scandal, once again raising questions about intervening for a patron.
Mr. McCain’s aides released all of his letters to the F.C.C. to dispel accusations of favoritism, and aides said the campaign had properly accounted for four trips on the Paxson plane. But the campaign did not report the flight with Ms. Iseman. Mr. McCain’s advisers say he was not required to disclose the flight, but ethics lawyers dispute that.
[UPDATE: McCain just conducted a press conference to answer questions. In the pantheon of great sex-scandal-driven press conferences this one had to be the most boring ever]