Did lobbyists influence McCain's "straight talk" on Boeing?

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff updates the story of one of John McCain's good-government efforts, which doesn't smell so sweet anymore.

Published June 23, 2008 1:42PM (EDT)

A crusade against waste and corruption sort of loses its luster when it turns out that the crusade may have been prompted by lobbyists for a company that stood to benefit, doesn't it?

That's what's Newsweek's Michael Isikoff pointed out in the latest issue of the magazine, when he cast a critical eye upon an investigation John McCain led into a contract for midair refueling tankers for the Air Force. That investigation led to the imprisonment of manufacturer Boeing's CFO and an Air Force officer, and to the cancellation of a planned contract, and McCain says that saved taxpayers $6 billion.

But, as Isikoff says, based on a recent auditor's ruling, there've been some snags in the system since. Last week, the auditors ruled that the Air Force made "significant errors" when it conducted the bidding process for the contract again, and it may now have to open bids a third time.

That's not all. In that second go-round, the contract had been awarded to two companies that had partnered on the project, European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) and Northrop Grumman. And, it turns out, McCain had some connections to EADS. "Five of his campaign's top advisers and fund-raisers -- including Tom Loeffler, who resigned last month as his finance co-chairman, and Susan Nelson, his finance director -- were registered lobbyists for EADS," Isikoff reports, noting also that in one letter McCain wrote to the Pentagon about the siuation, he reported hearing certain information from "third parties," and that some Pentagon officials think those parties could only have been EADS lobbyists.

A McCain aide e-mailed Newsweek, saying, "The letters ... were absolutely not provided, or drafted, by EADS or Northrop Grumman or ... submitted on their behalf. Those letters arose from, and reflect, Senator McCain's longstanding interest in ... full and open competition." The aide also pointed out that Loeffler and Nelson were not registered as lobbying for EADS at the time of the letters, but the campaign wouldn't allow him to talk to the magazine about whether there was input from lobbyists in the letters.

By Salon Staff

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