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McCain Responds to Ethics Charges

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. At a press conference today in Toledo, Ohio, Republican Senator John McCain denied a report in the New York Times today suggesting he had a romantic relationship years ago with a woman who worked as a lobbyist. The article also suggested that he did political favors for her.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Obviously I'm very disappointed in the article and it's not true.

CHADWICK: The Times says that this incident happened during Senator McCain's first run for president eight years ago. Now of course he is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Joining us is NPR's Don Gonyea. He was at Senator McCain's news conference this morning.

BRAND: And Don, the woman lobbyist named in this article, she's 40-year-old Vicki Iseman. What does The Times say exactly was her relationship with Senator McCain?

DON GONYEA: Well, let me read to you the second line of the Times piece. This is quick. A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fundraisers, visiting his offices, and accompanying him on a client's corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisors intervened to protect the candidate from himself. His aides, the paper says, were worried about the appearance of a conflict of interest here, that he had apparently a close relationship with a woman, a telecommunications lobbyist, Iseman, who had business before the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chaired.

Now, it's important to say that the paper does not cite any direct knowledge of or evidence of a romantic relationship. It dwells mostly on the conflict and the appearance of a conflict that so worried McCain's aides back in 2000.

Of course we've gotten today, you know, the denial from Senator McCain as the paper got the denial from him in today's edition.

BRAND: And Don, the Times quotes a number of anonymous sources, these aides that you mentioned, they are anonymous, not named, former McCain staffers. What does the senator say about that?

GONYEA: Well, therein lies the main thrust of his response to this article. He says the article is not true. He goes right at those anonymous sources. Give a listen to the senator this morning in Toledo.

Sen. MCCAIN: I do notice with some interest that it's, quote, "former aides," that this whole story is based on anonymous sources. I don't think that that's really something that is - I'm very disappointed in that. All of it is, quote, "anonymous sources," quote, "former aides." You know, the staff of the Commerce Committee was around 100 to 150 staffers, as I recall.

GONYEA: And you guys, as you listen, could you hear the contempt, could you hear the derision in his voice as he said repeatedly anonymous sources?

Again, they're trying to discredit the New York Times. When this story hit the Internet, the Times webpage last night, immediately we started getting emails from the campaign. Again, it was labeled as a smear against John McCain.

CHADWICK: You know, Don, you talk about the way that he sounded and appeared this morning. I was struck by how cool he was. Senator McCain's often highly emotional, and interesting in that way. He was absolutely chilly, but responding very quickly.

GONYEA: Very much within himself. There was no hint of emotion except for the disappointment that this story had run, a story that he maintains is flawed. A lot of his answers to questions, he'd give us a quick no, or it's not true. He didn't really expand much, but it felt important that he be - that he seemed to be coming across as very straightforward. That of course is an image he's cultivated or tried to cultivate throughout his career.

CHADWICK: NPR's Don Gonyea with Senator McCain earlier today. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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