February 21st, 2008
09:57 PM ET

A Question of Ethics: Does it hurt, or help?

Remember when John McCain ran for president eight years ago? The New York Times story today suggesting that he’s actually part of the problem in Washington has, of course, become a problem for his campaign, but also perhaps a help to it.

With his wife by his side, a subdued McCain issued an unequivocal denial, saying he’s "very disappointed in The New York Times piece. It’s not true." That’s for every allegation in the lengthy article:

First, that he had a romantic relationship with Vicki Iseman. Mccain described his relationship with her this way: "Friends. See her occasionally at fund-raisers and appearances before the committee."


And an assist from Mrs. McCain: "My children and I not only trust my husband, but know that that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family but disappoint the people of America."

Then, McCain took on the charge that he used his powerful position on a Senate committee to help her corporate clients: "At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would would favor any one, or any organization."

The Times also says eight years ago his advisers were so concerned about his relationship with Iseman that they tried to stop it: He denied that, too.

The one named source to go on the record in the Times story was McCain’s former top political adviser, John Weaver. He confirmed to CNN that he was worried and did confront her. However, he insists now that it wasn’t about a romantic relationship, but about her spreading word around town that McCain helped her lobbying clients.

"My concern wasn’t about anything John had done. It was about her comments. It was about access she claimed to have had," Weaver told us.

McCain insists he knows nothing about that: "I never discussed it with John Weaver. As far as I know, there was no necessity for it. That’s a judgment that he made."

But Iseman’s lobbying firm issued a statement calling the story fantasies of a former disgruntled campaign employee, without merit or foundation.

The irony in all this? The McCain campaign is relishing the controversy, because it allows the candidate trying to appeal to conservatives to pick a fight with what they see as a big enemy, The New York Times.

In fact, the campaign sent out a fund-raiser today calling on donors to send money to fight the "liberal establishment."

–Dana Bash, 360° Correspondent

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