So, judging by Memeorandum, here’s the big scoop that’s going to wreck Maverick’s candidacy. His campaign put out a statement the other night claiming he’d never been personally asked by a firm named Paxson in 1999 to send a letter to the FCC about approving a transaction they had pending. There’s no dispute that Paxson contacted McCain’s staff to send a letter, a reminder that the great anti-lobbyist isn’t so anti-lobbyist after all; the question is purely whether anyone went to Maverick himself. Michael Isikoff dug around and found out McCain said in a deposition in 2002, “I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue.” So he’s lying! But wait:
“We do not think there is a contradiction here,” campaign spokeswoman Ann Begeman e-mailed NEWSWEEK after being asked about the senator’s sworn testimony five and a half years ago. “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 regarding the Pittsburgh license transaction.
“Senator McCain’s staff recalls meeting with representatives of Paxson, and staff was asked to contact the FCC on behalf of Senator McCain,” Begemen continued. “The staff relayed to Senator McCain the message from Paxson’s representatives. But we have checked the records of the Senator’s 1999 schedule and it does not appear there were any meetings between Senator McCain and Paxson or any representative of Paxson regarding the issue.”
Read down to the very end of the piece for the full 2002 exchange, in which McCain stresses that he did write the letter but made sure Paxson’s people understood that he couldn’t and wouldn’t ask the FCC to rule a certain way. The one eyebrow-raising detail in all this is that the FCC chair at the time described McCain’s communications as “highly unusual.” But listen to this audio from the John Gibson radio show with Lanny Davis, the former Clinton aide who was lobbying on the same deal as Paxson, about just how unusual it was. Stick with it until the end, as it includes a relevant detail or two that the Times didn’t see fit to make much of. Like David Brooks says, the extent to which this story has legs depends on the sex angle, which is easy for the public to digest and stay on top of. If McCain diddled, he burns. If not, not.
Update: Paxson says he did meet with McCain and Vicky Iseman was probably there, and, er, that’s it.
“We understood that he [McCain] did not speak directly with him [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?” [McCain’s lawyer, Bob] Bennett said. “McCain has never denied that Paxson asked for assistance from his office. It doesn’t seem relevant whether the request got to him through Paxson or the staff. His letters to the FCC concerning the matter urged the commission to make up its mind. He did not ask the FCC to approve or deny the application. It’s not that big a deal.”…
Paxson defended Iseman as a complete professional and said she was at her best when she worked on the Pittsburgh deal. He said they turned to McCain often when they ran into interference at the FCC, but Paxson added that McCain did not always agree with him. In three other major issues, Paxson said, McCain took the opposing viewpoint.