JOHN McCAIN AND THE TELECOM LOBBYIST….OK, let’s dive into the John McCain story. According to a heavily padded piece in the New York Times today, several of Mr. Straight Talk’s aides became concerned during the 2000 campaign that he was spending a wee bit too much time with an attractive, 32-year-old telecom lobbyist named Vicki Iseman:

In 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, “Why is she always around?”

….A former campaign adviser described being instructed to keep Ms. Iseman away from the senator at public events, while a Senate aide recalled plans to limit Ms. Iseman’s access to his offices.

In interviews, the two former associates said they joined in a series of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others.

Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after “a discussion among the campaign leadership” about her.

Josh Marshall thinks there’s more here than meets the eye:

At the moment it seems to me that we have a story from the Times that reads like it’s had most of the meat lawyered out of it. And a lot of miscellany and fluff has been packed in where the meat was.

….I find it very difficult to believe that the Times would have put their chin so far out on this story if they didn’t know a lot more than they felt they could put in the article, at least on the first go….Equally telling [] is the McCain camp’s response and their clear unwillingness to address or deny any the key charges of the piece. (Read the statement closely. It’s all bluster.)

Radar reports that the Times, which has been chasing this story at least since December, only published now because it was forced into it:

Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and Michael Calderone of Politico were two of the reporters at rival publications who were chasing the Times story. Calderone was particularly well informed about the details of the Times investigation.

Over at Politico, though, Calderone says it was the New Republic who forced their hand:

According to [campaign advisor Charles] Black, the Times only went with the story now because The New Republic was set to run a piece next Monday about internal dissensions at the paper over whether to run the long-held article.

After the TNR reporter, Gabriel Sherman, began making phone calls to the Times and others outside the paper, they decided to publish, Black alleged.

And TNR says this:

The McCain campaign is apparently blaming TNR for forcing the Times’ hand on this story. We can’t yet confirm that. But we can say this: TNR correspondent Gabe Sherman is working on a piece about the Times’ foot-dragging on the McCain story, and the back-and-forth within the paper about whether to publish it. Gabe’s story will be online tomorrow.

That sure sounds like a confirmation to me, but I guess we’ll find out more when Sherman’s piece is posted. Meanwhile, over at Swampland, McCain aide Mark Salter says the whole story is a load of hooey:

Salter also said that the Senator would soon release statements from those people interviewed by the Times for the story — “dozens” according to him — who denied many of the facts alleged in the story (including Iseman’s supposedly frequent presence in the Senate office), but who were not quoted in the piece. The Times also states that the lobbyist “accompanied” McCain to fundraisers. Salter was emphatic: “She ATTENDED McCain fundrasiers, she didn’t ACCOMPANY McCain.”

I guess that’s enough for now. It’s hard to say exactly what trajectory this story is going to take — McCain is a hypocrite? The media is corrupt? Disgruntled ex-aides can be a real problem? — but it’s sure getting massive attention right now. It’s not really ignorable.

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