Sen. John McCain on Thursday disputed an account in The New York Times that top advisers had confronted him during his first presidential run with concerns about his ties to a woman lobbyist.
“Obviously, I’m very disappointed in the article — it’s not true,” McCain said at a morning news conference in Toledo, where he was campaigning for president. “At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust or make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest or would favor anyone or organization.”
Asked if he ever had a romantic relationship with the woman, Vicki Iseman, 40, McCain, 71, responded, “No.” He described his relationship with Iseman as “friends” and said he had last seen her “several months ago” at an event.
McCain’s wife, Cindy, stood at his side throughout the news conference. “My children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family but disappoint the people of America,” Cindy McCain said. “He’s a man of great character.”
The couple were responding to an article on Thursday that said Iseman’s recurring appearances in 1999 at fundraisers, in his office and at campaign events alarmed some top advisers, prompting several to warn him that his association with her could threaten his reputation as a scourge of special interests.
McCain said he was never involved in such discussions. “I don’t know if it happened at their level, it certainly didn’t happen to me,” he said
At his press conference, McCain also said he had no knowledge that a top aide had asked Iseman to keep her distance from the senator and his campaign.
John Weaver, a former top McCain strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, had told the newspaper that he met with the lobbyist, a partner at the firm Alcale & Fay, at Washington’s Union Station in early 1999.
“I don’t know anything about it,” McCain said. “Since it was in The New York Times, I don’t take it at face value.”
Weaver declined to comment to The Times on Thursday. He told the Washington Post Web site, however, that he had not informed McCain about the meeting in advance.
He also expanded on his initial description to the Times of the discussion with Iseman. He had said, without elaborating, that he had warned Iseman away because of “what she had told people” that had “made its way back” to the McCain campaign.
In a statement to the Web site of The Atlantic Monthly, Weaver said the comments that concerned him were about “strong ties to John’s committee staff, personal staff and to him.”
Later in the day, one of McCain’s senior advisers leveled harsh criticism at The New York Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on a number of issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication.