John McCain, American Hero, just took one in the shorts, and I’m not talking about the highly questionable New York Times story linking him with some lobbyist in a romantic fling or some old Keating Five scandal revisited.

The problem, as is so often the case with these things, came when he issued a very exacting rebuttal of the Times article. From Salon:

In issuing a very specific, point-by-point denial of the NYT story, McCain specifically denied that he ever talked to Paxson’s CEO, Lowell Paxson (or any other Paxson representative) about this matter:

No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay discussed with Senator McCain the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceeding. . . . No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding.

But Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff today obtained (or was given) the transcripts of deposition testimony which McCain himself gave under oath several years ago in litigation over the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold. In that testimony, McCain repeatedly and unequivocally stated the opposite of what he said in this week’s NYT denial: namely, that he had unquestionably spoken with Paxson himself over the pending FCC matter:

“I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue,” McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. “He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint.”

While McCain said “I don’t recall” if he ever directly spoke to the firm’s lobbyist about the issue — an apparent reference to Iseman, though she is not named — “I’m sure I spoke to [Paxson].”

It’s hard to imagine how there could be a clearer contradiction in McCain’s statements than (a) “I’m sure I spoke to [Paxson]” and (b) “No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay discussed with Senator McCain the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceeding.”

Making matters much worse, when the McCain campaign today was confronted by Newsweek with this glaring contradiction, they plainly told another untruth. They said that when McCain testified that “he” spoke with Paxson, he merely meant that his staff did:

“We do not think there is a contradiction here,” campaign spokeswoman Ann Begeman e-mailed NEWSWEEK after being asked about the senator’s sworn testimony five and a half years ago. “We do not have the transcript you excerpted and do not know the exact questions Senator McCain was asked, but it appears that Senator McCain, when speaking of being contacted by Paxson, was speaking in shorthand of his staff being contacted by representatives of Paxson.”

But just look at what McCain actually testified to, and there is no doubt that the McCain campaign’s excuse — that Paxson merely spoke with his staff members, not McCain himself — is patently false:

[T]he campaign’s insistence that McCain himself never talked to Paxson about the issue seems hard to square with the contents of his testimony in the McCain-Feingold case.

[Deposition questioner Floyd] Abrams, for example, at one point cited the somewhat technical contents of one of his letters to the FCC and then asked the witness, “where did you get information of that sort, Senator McCain?”

McCain replied: “I was briefed by my staff.”

Abrams then followed up: “Do you know where they got the information?”

“No,” McCain replied. “But I would add, I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue.”

“You were?”


Abrams then asked McCain: “Can you tell us what you said and what he said about it?”

McCain: “That he had applied to purchase this station and that he wanted to purchase it. And that there had been a numerous year delay with the FCC reaching a decision. And he wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I said, ‘I would be glad to write a letter asking them to act, but I will not write a letter, I cannot write a letter asking them to approve or deny, because then that would be an interference in their activities. I think everybody is entitled to a decision. But I can’t ask for a favorable disposition for you’.”
Abrams a few moments later asked: “Did you speak to the company’s lobbyist about these matters?”

McCain: “I don’t recall if it was Mr. Paxson or the company’s lobbyist or both.”

Abrams: “But you did speak to him?”

McCain: “I’m sure I spoke with him, yes.”

That is nail-in-the-coffin testimony demonstrating the deliberately false nature of McCain’s denials this week.

As I indicated, the one relevant part of the NYT story — whether McCain inappropriately intervened with the FCC on behalf of a major contributor and all-around McCain benefactor — is an old story, and the NYT story added little or nothing to it. But what is not old is McCain’s deliberately dishonest claims in response to that story. Denying that he ever spoke with Paxson’s CEO when he testified under oath that he did — and then misleadingly claiming that he was using the royal “I” and meant only that his staff spoke with Paxson — is clear and deliberate deceit.

I’m not convinced that the Republican nomination is all sewn up at this point, believe it or not, mainly because I remember Gary Hart. If the media smells blood, John McCain’s candidacy is chum in the water .