Part of McCain's denial appears untrue

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff finds a 2002 deposition by McCain that throws into question one part of his campaign's sweeping defense against a New York Times report.

Published February 22, 2008 7:31PM (EST)

Wednesday night and Thursday, John McCain's campaign pushed back -- hard -- against a New York Times story suggesting that McCain might have had a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman and worked for special treatment for her and her clients. As part of the McCain camp's pushback, it issued a sweeping denial of the Times story and many of the facts contained therein. One of the elements of that denial, though, now appears to be false.

One of the facts the McCain camp challenged regarded two letters McCain sent to the Federal Communications Commission, asking it to decide a question important to Paxson Communications, one of Iseman's clients. In a statement, the McCain campaign said, "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay [Iseman's employer] personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC."

But Newsweek's Michael Isikoff -- who had been reported to have been chasing the Iseman story after initial rumors came out on the Drudge Report, and who was an early reporter on the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- says he has proof that what the McCain campaign said isn't true. And he's pretty convincing. Isikoff obtained a copy of a deposition McCain gave in 2002, during a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance statute McCain cosponsored. During that deposition, he said, "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue ... He wanted [the FCC's] approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

In his article, Isikoff provides the response of the McCain campaign to his reporting, from a McCain spokeswoman: "We do not think there is a contradiction here. 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. Senator McCain does not recall being asked directly by Paxson or any representative of him or by Alcalde & Fay to contact the FCC."

But, as Isikoff points out, in the deposition McCain was pretty clear about what he means when he says Paxon contacted him, and it doesn't appear to be shorthand. Under questioning by plaintiff's attorney Floyd Abrams, McCain and Abrams had the following exchange:

Abrams: 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.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.