Matt Lewis
Remember that Drudge rumor a month, or so, ago?  You know, the one about McCain "killing" a New York Times story about him and a lobbyist?  Well, it's back.  The NY Times has a big story tomorrow.  Here's how it begins ...
Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

...

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

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The question, at this point, is:  Is this a real story ... or not? 

... On one hand, this is a 10-year old allegation.  And the only people I can find who leveled allegations were "two former McCain associates" who reportedly became "convinced" (read: not 100% sure) something was going on.  It's not unusual that "former" associates, who have been dismissed from their duties, might enjoy seeking revenge against their former boss.  It should also be noted that both parties are denying anything took place.  Moreover, unlike some conservatives, McCain has never staked his credibility as a social values sort of conservative.  Is this just one bad news day for McCain, or much, much more? 

On the other hand, you get the feeling from reading the news story that there is still more to come out about this thinly-sourced story.  At least, based on the lack of attribution -- I would hope that's the case.  I just get the feeling the Times has more ammunition than they put forth today.  What would be especially damaging would be if they could prove some sort of quid pro quo.  McCain's credibility has been based more on ethics and fighting lobbyist influence than on family values or personal morality. 

If this turns out to have legs, might this be the last straw for McCain and conservatives?  Was Mike Huckabee wise to stick around so long ... just in case something like this were to happen?

If there is truth to this allegation, then the New York Times may be guilty of withholding this information until after McCain became the presumptive nominee.  Remember, as Drudge reported, they were on the verge of bringing this story out back in December ... and then nothing happened because McCain's team reportedly "spiked it."  Could it be that the Times wanted to wait until McCain became the nominee before releasing this information?

It's still too early to say, but unless there is more to this story than has already been reported, my guess it that this is already overblown.  

And if that's the case, McCain may be able to spin this as a cheap attempt by the liberal media to take down the presumptive GOP nominee.  A lot of conservatives have been skeptical of McCain because of his positive press.  Might some negative MSM attention be just what the doctor ordered?

Update:  McCain's campaign issues this release:

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today issued the following statement by Communications Director Jill Hazelbaker:

"It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

Update:  On MSNBC Howard Fineman reports that the New York Times finally came out with the story in order to preempt a story from The New Republic about why the Times spiked the story ....

Update:  Having read this story more closely, it is very possible that, even if all the allegations that were literally made (not implied) are true, McCain may have merely had some sort of a mutual attraction to this lobbyist.  His staff may have noticed this, and, being good staffers, taken precaution to remove any possible temptation.  There are no real allegations that any favors were given, or any proof that anything physical really happened.  At least, not in this first story, that is ...

Update:  The New York Times endorsed McCain more than a month after they spiked the first story.  If any of these allegations were credible, why would the Times have endorsed him a month later?

Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis is conservative writer and blogger based in Alexandria, VA.

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