MCCAIN AND THE U.S. COUNCIL FOR WORLD FREEDOM…. On “Meet the Press” the other day, Ted Koppel Tom Brokaw asked Paul Begala about the political implications of McCain trying to smear Obama with William Ayers. Begala argued that this whole approach may backfire, given McCain’s background with the “very right-wing” U.S. Council for World Freedom, an offshoot of the radical World Anti-Communist League.

McCain “does not want to play guilt by association or this thing could blow up in his face,” Begala concluded.

And what is the U.S. Council for World Freedom? To its credit, the AP ran an interesting report on the subject this morning.

GOP presidential nominee John McCain has past connections to a private group that supplied aid to guerrillas seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua in the Iran-Contra affair.

McCain’s ties are facing renewed scrutiny after his campaign criticized Barack Obama for his link to a former radical who engaged in violent acts 40 years ago.

The U.S. Council for World Freedom was part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. The group was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub created the group, and McCain became associated with the organization in the early 1980s, ultimately joining its board of directors.

The U.S. Council for World Freedom became controversial when it became the public cover for the White House’s covert operation to fund the Contras without congressional approval, with Singlaub working in secret with Oliver North to raise money from foreign governments.

McCain has said he resigned from the council in 1984 and asked that his name be removed from the group’s letterhead in 1986. Singlaub doesn’t remember McCain ever doing that, and neither does the person who ran the group’s day-to-day activities.

But whether McCain is being truthful or not about how, whether, and when he dissociated himself from the group is only part of the problem. Sam Stein explained in a good piece that the real focus here is that McCain associated himself “with a group that reportedly circumvented law, financed right-wing military institutions, and engaged in sometimes brutal anti-communist tactics.”

Obama has spent quite a bit of time over the last two years explaining his associations with various figures. Perhaps McCain could extend voters the same courtesy by explaining his ties to this controversial group.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.