Multiple Democrats say McCain almost left GOP in 2001

Captain Ed got to it first. Some of it’s old news, but the parts that are old are so old that it’s like discovering them for the first time. And the parts that aren’t? Devastating.

Ed says if it’s true, he’s finished. I agree.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions…

Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them

Daschle said that throughout April and May of 2001, he and McCain “had meetings and conversations on the floor and in his office, I think in mine as well, about how we would do it, what the conditions would be. We talked about committees and his seniority … [A lot of issues] were on the table.”

Absolutely not so, according to McCain. In a statement released by his campaign, McCain said, “As I said in 2001, I never considered leaving the Republican Party, period.”

Some of the meetings Daschle referred to are detailed in the former senator’s 2003 book

“John [Edwards] at that time was working with McCain on a couple things and there was a sense that because of his relationship that he might be a good person to talk to him,” Daschle said. “He was clearly one of those that we thought could be helpful.”

A source close to Edwards said Daschle’s comments are accurate.

Daschle says McCain was never thinking of becoming a Democrat, only an independent, but that’s a cold comfort. John Weaver, the McCain strategist who allegedly approached the Dems about switching, evidently admitted this week that St. John did speak to some Democratic senators about it — but only very briefly, in a single meeting which he left shortly after it began. Daschle says that’s nonsense.

Honestly, the blockquote doesn’t do it justice as I had to omit further corroborating quotes by another Democrat, former Rep. Tom Downey. You’ll simply have to read the whole thing. It boils down to whether you take a bunch of Democrats’ words over McCain’s: they have an interest in knocking him out of the race, but do they have an interest in knocking him out now? The longer he’s in, the more damage his oppo researchers can do to Giuliani and Romney. And the quicker he’s out, the more easily his fundraisers can transition to another candidate. If they’re making this all up, it would have made more sense to drop it six months from now.

Which makes me think they’re not making it up.

Rudy’s and Romney’s people are surely working the phones as we speak. If there’s anyone else on the Democratic side who can corroborate this — and there must be if it’s true — they’ll find him. And if they can get him to talk, which is a big if given what I’ve just said about the timetable, I think J-Mac’s done.