On Monday, the day before the Florida primary, John Fund reported that John McCain had told a group of lawyers that while he would appoint a John Roberts to the SCOTUS, he might draw the line at appointing a Sam Alito because he “wore his conservatism on his sleeve.” McCain’s campaign initially responded with a sort of offended non-response, but by the day’s end McCain had offered up an unequivocal denial to NRO’s Byron York.

“Let me just look you in the eye,” McCain told me. “I’ve said a thousand times on this campaign trail, I’ve said as often as I can, that I want to find clones of Alito and Roberts. I worked as hard as anybody to get them confirmed. I look you in the eye and tell you I’ve said a thousand times that I wanted Alito and Roberts. I have told anybody who will listen. I flat-out tell you I will have people as close to Roberts and Alito [as possible], and I am proud of my record of working to get them confirmed, and people who worked to get them confirmed will tell you how hard I worked.”

Fund appeared on Mark Levin’s radio show Monday night and stood by his report. At that time, I considered the matter in Fund’s court, since we didn’t have enough detail about the comments to know how to evaluate their veracity.

Well, Bob Novak has confirmed that Fund’s report is accurate.

Fund wrote that McCain “has told conservatives he would be happy to appoint the likes of Chief Justice Roberts to the Supreme Court. But he indicated he might draw the line on a Samuel Alito because ‘he wore his conservatism on his sleeve.’ ” In a conference call with bloggers that day, McCain said, “I don’t recall a conversation where I would have said that.” He was “astonished” by the Alito quote, he said, and he repeatedly says at town meetings, “We’re going to have justices like Roberts and Alito.”

I found what McCain could not remember: a private, informal chat with conservative Republican lawyers shortly after he announced his candidacy in April 2007. I talked to two lawyers who were present whom I have known for years and who have never misled me. One is neutral in the presidential race, and the other recently endorsed Mitt Romney. Both said they were not Fund’s source, and neither knew I was talking to the other. They gave me nearly identical accounts, as follows:

“Wouldn’t it be great if you get a chance to name somebody like Roberts and Alito?” one lawyer commented. McCain replied, “Well, certainly Roberts.” Jaws were described as dropping. My sources cannot remember exactly what McCain said next, but their recollection is that he described Alito as too conservative.

By my count that makes at least four sources who contradict McCain, though annoyingly, none of them are on the record by name and other than the April 2007 date we don’t have specifics about the meeting. It’s almost as though both Novak and Fund are dribbling out just enough detail to keep McCain off balance without the chance to know exactly where the allegations are coming from.

On the other hand, after McCain’s dishonest performance in the debate last night, no one has much reason to take him at his word when he denies having made the anti-Alito statement. So I would say that with two reporters independently verifying the remarks via multiple sources, the ball is now in McCain’s court.