Ten days before the 2008 presidential election, as blame was beginning to be laid out for John McCain’s “likely defeat,” a top communications adviser to the campaign wrote a detailed strategy memo focused on how to preserve the reputation of another key adviser, Steve Schmidt, POLITICO has learned.

The memo, written by senior McCain adviser Brian Jones, was sent to two top officials at his firm, Mercury Public Affairs, in an attempt to address emerging leaks criticizing Schmidt for the failing campaign. A firm partner and former George W. Bush campaign hand, Schmidt’s role advising the McCain campaign and helping select an unprepared Sarah Palin as running-mate is at the center of the HBO movie “Game Change.”…

Jones wrote it, sources said, at the request of top Mercury brass, as the campaign wound down and Schmidt was returning to his MPA role. At the time, the Republican nominee was sinking in the polls and the anonymous finger-pointing was well underway in press accounts…

Schmidt told POLITICO he knew nothing about the pre-election plan, or the memo.

“I had no idea that this existed until today,” he said. “I wouldn’t have asked for anyone to do that but these guys are great communications strategists and good friends and business partners and it’s good to have people who have your back. But it’s not something I would have ever told anyone to go and do…it’s not where my focus was.”