Can McCain Survive NYT Bombshell About His Coziness with a Female Lobbyist?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 10:01 AM EST

The angriest man in America this morning? It's not John McCain; it's Mitt Romney. McCain stands accused by The New York Times of having too cozy a relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecom firms with interests before a Senate committee he led. But Romney must be gnashing his white-as-can-be teeth over the timing of this disclosure. Though the newspaper had been working on the report for months, it was not published until the revelations could do Romney no good. Which is why Bay Buchanan, who was a strategist for Romney, was braying on CNN last night about the Times' playing politics with this piece.

At the same time, she accused the paper of mounting a smear job. The story does put conservatives in an awkward position. Many hate McCain, but they despise The New York Times. So what do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and the others do? It's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler.

Smear job did seem to be the preferred Republican reply. The first email to journalists the McCain campaign sent out in response to the story included quotes from Washington power-lawyer Bob Bennett, a Democrat who had represented McCain in negotiations with the Times. He had appeared on Fox News and called the article a "smear job," comparing it to the "smear campaign" waged against McCain in 2000 prior to the South Carolina primary. (In that ugly episode, McCain critics accused him of siring a child out of wedlock, of being brainwashed in Vietnam, and more.)

But the Bennett statements disseminated by the campaign did not dispute a single fact in the Times article, which noted that McCain had taken official action on behalf of one of Iseman's clients. In a real stunner, the Times story includes on-the-record comments from John Weaver, a former top strategist for McCain, who told the paper about a meeting he had with Iseman, during which he apparently warned her to stay away from McCain. This conversation, Weaver said, followed "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about Iseman. He added, "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort." Iseman disputed Weaver's account of the meeting.

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