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Sen. John McCain's Press Conference Regarding Media Reports About His Relationship With a Washington Lobbyist

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An article in The New York Times quotes unnamed former aides to Sen. John McCain who were concerned about his relationship with a lobbyist. McCain's campaign calls it a smear. Nancy Cordes reports. Video by CBSNEWS.com

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Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 12:09 PM

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MCCAIN: ... which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor anyone or any organization.

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As chairman of the Commerce Committee, there were hundreds of issues, including many telecommunications issues, that came before the committee. I had to make decisions on those issues and I made those decisions. Sometimes they were agreed with, sometimes they were not.

But any observer will attest to the fact that I made those decisions on the basis of what I thought was in the best interests of the American citizen.

So, I'm proud of my record of service to this country. I'm proud of my service as chairman of the Commerce Committee, which has the oversight of literally hundreds of issues; the largest committee in the United States Senate, as -- in terms of jurisdiction. And I will continue to serve. And I will focus my attention in this campaign on the big issues, on the challenges that face this country, and I think that's what the American people are very interested in hearing about.

Again, I'm very disappointed in the New York Times piece. It's not true. And I'll be glad to respond to any questions you might have.

QUESTION: Senator, did you ever have any meeting with any of your staffers in which they would have intervened to ask you not to see Vicki Iseman or to be concerned about appearances of being too close to a lobbyist?

MCCAIN: No.

QUESTION: No meeting ever occurred?

MCCAIN: No.

QUESTION: No staffer was ever concerned about a possible romantic relationship?

MCCAIN: If they were, they didn't communicate that to me.

QUESTION: Did you ever have such relationship?

MCCAIN: No.

QUESTION: Senator, can you describe your relationship with Vicki Iseman?

MCCAIN: Friends. Seen her on occasions, particularly at receptions and fund-raisers and appearances before the committee. I have many friends in Washington who represent various interests and those who don't, and I consider her a friend.

QUESTION: But do you feel like, in terms of your relationship with lobbyists in general, you were closer to her than with others?

MCCAIN: No, no.

I have many friends who represent various interests, ranging from the firemen to the police to senior citizens to various interests, particularly before my committee. And I had meetings with hundreds of them and various interests. And that was my job to do, to get their input.

And, obviously, people who represent interests are fine. That's their constitutional right. The question is is whether do they have access or unwarranted influence. And certainly, no one ever has in my conduct of my public life and the conduct of my legislative agenda.

QUESTION: Senator?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Did John Weaver, who is one of your former top aides -- is quoted on the record saying that he had a conversation with her saying -- basically telling her to butt out.

Do you not know of that conversation? Do you know why John Weaver would go on the record describing such a conversation?

MCCAIN: I did not and I don't know anything about it.

QUESTION: And do you...

MCCAIN: John Weaver is a friend of mine. He remains a friend of mine, and -- but I certainly didn't know of anything of that nature.

QUESTION: And do you regret flying on the -- Iseman was working for this man, Paxson. Do you regret flying on this plane or writing those letters to the FCC that is part of this?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, on riding on the airplane, that was an accepted practice. I have ridden on many airplanes. And since then, the rules have been changed with something I supported.

On the, quote, "letters to the FCC," interestingly, this was brought up in the year 2000 by the New York Times. I wrote a letter because the FCC, which usually makes a decision within 400 days, had gone almost 800 days.

MCCAIN: In the letter, I said, "I am not telling you how to make a decision. I'm just telling you that you should move forward and make a decision on this issue." And I believe that was appropriate.

Former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the time in 2000 said that that was more than an appropriate role for me to play as chairman of the Oversight Committee.

So, my answer to you is no.

QUESTION: Senator?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: You were aware, obviously, of this story being in preparation for a number of months.

MCCAIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you speak to the New York Times? And if so, what did you tell them? Did they ever say that the story was not going to run?

MCCAIN: We never tried to have any dialogue in that fashion. For months, the New York Times has submitted questions and we have answered them fully and exhaustively. And unfortunately, many of those answers were not included in the rather long piece in the New York Times.

But we fully cooperated with them in answering any questions that they might have.

QUESTION: But you never tried to dissuade them from running the story in any fashion?

MCCAIN: No. In fact, I never spoke directly to them.

QUESTION: Senator, why do you think they're running this story now?

MCCAIN: I don't know. I really don't know.

I'm very disappointed, obviously. But we'll move on with the campaign, talk about the big issues, talk about the challenges that people face in their lives, and the economy today, our national security issues. And I'm confident that we will move forward. And I'm confident that we will continue to compete in the primaries a week from next Tuesday and gain the nomination of the party. And I'm looking forward to it.

QUESTION: Just another question. The New York Times...

MCCAIN: You know, it's a little hard for me to see the questioner with the light that bright. If you could turn it down just a little bit, I'd appreciate it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, the New York Times article quotes you having conversations with Bill Keller, the executive editor.

MCCAIN: I had one conversation -- I'm sorry, I did have one conversation with him. I correct the record. I did have a conversation with Mr. Keller. I called him up when the investigation was going on and I asked him, basically, what was happening and that we hoped that we could bring this to closure.

But that -- it was a very brief conversation. I apologize for that. I was not trying to dissuade him from -- in any way from doing the story. I know the New York Times.

(LAUGHTER)

So, I wasn't trying to dissuade it from him.

QUESTION: What did you mean by "closure"?

MCCAIN: Well, we'd like to have the many months' investigation closed at some point. And obviously, they did.

QUESTION: Can I just confirm again, the New York Times is pretty explicit in quoting a couple of former aides, they say, saying that some of your aides intervened and confronted not just Ms. Iseman, but you, in particular, saying, "Stop seeing her. Don't have a relationship with her because this could hurt you."

You're saying that did not happen?

MCCAIN: I don't know if it happened at their level. It certainly didn't happen to me.

And I do notice, with some interest, that it's, quote, "former aides"; that this whole story is based on anonymous sources.

I don't think that that's really something that is -- I'm very disappointed in that. All of it is, quote, "anonymous sources," quote, "former aides."

You know, the staff of the Commerce Committee was around 100 to 150 staffers, as I recall. I've had -- it was one of the largest staffs of any committee. So, quote, "former aides and former staffers" could certainly encompass a large number of people.

QUESTION: None of them, nobody on your campaign said, "Senator, she's a problem. Don't deal with her"?

MCCAIN: No. No. No.

QUESTION: There were some notable departures from your campaign last summer. Do you believe there's any reason to think there were hurt feelings or motivations for people to make these claims?

MCCAIN: I do not. I just don't.

I know that those people, we had a very difficult time in the campaign, to say the least. And we parted as friends from the campaign and I remain friends with them.

QUESTION: Senator, have you talked to John Weaver about what he's told the Times or The Post?

MCCAIN: No, I have not.

QUESTION: Did you have a conversation with him during this investigation when they were reaching out to him?

MCCAIN: No.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) he was talking to them?

MCCAIN: No.

I've had a couple of conversations with John. He called to congratulate me when we won a couple of the primaries. And I said, "Thanks, John. Look forward to seeing you." And we just -- the only subject we discussed on the phone was he congratulated me on how well our campaign going.

John and I have known each other for many, many years and we remain good friends.

QUESTION: Are you still in touch with Ms. Iseman in any way?

MCCAIN: With who?

QUESTION: With Vicki Iseman. When was the last time you saw her?

MCCAIN: I've not, obviously, because I haven't been in Washington. No, not in some time.

QUESTION: Real quick, on public financing the FEC says that you don't have the right to withdraw from the system and, basically, your campaign has said, "Yes, you do," and you did.

Can you address that?

MCCAIN: Well, it was done before in another campaign, and I've forgotten which one it was now.

We think it's perfectly legal. We have one of our advisers is a former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and we are confident that it is an appropriate thing to do.

QUESTION: Mrs. McCain, do you want to comment on what you read in The New York Times?

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE: Well, obviously, I'm very disappointed in the New York Times. And more importantly, my children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family, but more -- but disappoint the people of America. He's a man of great character, and I'm very, very disappointed in the New York Times.

MCCAIN: I should have had you conduct this meeting.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Do you think this will be damaging or distracting, at the very least, to your campaign at this juncture?

MCCAIN: Something like this is always distracting and very disappointing. And I hope we can, by doing what we're doing here, put to rest the whole situation.

MCCAIN: But I would imagine that -- you know, it does distract and it keeps me from talking about the big issues and the not-so-big issues.

But hopefully, we can get this thing resolved and behind us and move forward with the campaign. And I'm confident that we can.

QUESTION: Senator?

MCCAIN: Yes?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) And with the allegations, are you going to have to work harder to campaign, to get those votes for March 4th?

MCCAIN: I think we have a lot of work to do. I'm happy that in the Washington primary and the other primaries, such as in Virginia and Maryland, those who call themselves, quote, "conservatives" -- we were getting a significant and even a majority part of the vote there and in Wisconsin.

I still have a lot of work to do to unite the party, and I'll keep working at it. And, hopefully, I can show them my conservative record and we are -- we'll win enough delegates that will be necessary to secure the nomination.

And I'm confident of the progress we're making, but I also respect Governor Huckabee's desire to remain in the race for as long as he wants to. That's his right to do, and I respect it.

QUESTION: Senator, do you think this will have blowback against you and conservatives, your ability to attract them into your campaign -- talk radio?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope that the -- all people, all Americans will recognize that this is an issue that I hope I can get resolved and move forward. And I believe we are and can and will. And I think the American people are very fair in their judgment.

And so, you know, there will be other obstacles in this campaign, I am sure. We all know that presidential campaigns are very, very tough.

And so, I intend to respond and I intend to move on and I'm confident that we will continue on the path to victory, not only in the primary, but in the general election in November. And I look forward to the debate.

QUESTION: Senator, you, on the campaign trail, at every stop, talk about how you want to change Washington -- that you're a creature of Washington but you say you want to change Washington.

But this, kind of, story that really goes to the heart, and perhaps contradicting the central theme of your campaign.

MCCAIN: Well, I understand that. And that's why I'm so disappointed on a story based on, quote, "anonymous sources," et cetera.

MCCAIN: But look, I have a long record -- as I said, a 50-year record; a 24-year record as a member of Congress. And I'm confident that my record will be reviewed.

There are many people who have dealt with me who are now stepping forward and talking about how fairly and objectively I ran the Commerce Committee and the leadership I've shown in many reform issues, including my opposition to earmark and pork barrel spending.

So, I'll be asking people to look at my entire record, and I think that that will stand.

But, yes, this is a very disappointing event to pick up the paper this morning -- actually to hear last night that this story was appearing after months of inquiries from the New York Times.

QUESTION: Senator?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when your last communication or contact with Ms. Iseman was?

MCCAIN: I think it was several months ago. I think I ran into her at some event. Yes.

QUESTION: Have you ever spoken to her about this story, about...

MCCAIN: Oh, no. No.

QUESTION: Now that you've learned that Mike Weaver met with Ms. Iseman, do you feel that that meeting was unnecessary?

MCCAIN: It's John Weaver.

And I don't know anything about it, so I don't know what -- since it was in the New York Times, I don't take it at face value.

(LAUGHTER)

So you'll have to talk to him about it. But I did not know anything about it, so I can't comment on it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: Yes?

QUESTION: I spoke with John Weaver this morning, and what he said is that he did speak with Ms. Iseman. And what he wanted to tell her is that he was hearing that she was telling people around town that she had influence with you. And he was worried back then, just like it would today, that it would undermine your campaign. And that's why he went to her.

Knowing that, did he make the right move?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because I -- again, I've never discussed it with John Weaver. And so, as far as I know, there was no necessity for it.

But that's a judgment that he made, so you'd have to discuss it with him. But I did not know anything about it.

QUESTION: Is that something that he should have discussed with you?

MCCAIN: No, not necessarily. I'm not his -- no, not that I would think.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you all very much. Thanks.

END


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