CBS ‘Early Show’ Looks at ‘Bombshell Report’ on McCain

On Thursday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith teased upcoming coverage of accusations of John McCain having an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman: "And Republican front-runner John McCain blasted on the front pages of The New York Times...not exactly the coverage you may be looking for if you're running for president." Later, Smith introduced the segment by exclaiming: "This bombshell report that Republican front-runner John McCain may have had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist who was a visitor to his office and traveled with him on a client's corporate jet."

In a following report by correspondent Nancy Cordes, the New York Times article was quoted:

According to The Times, the aides warned him "he was risking his campaign and career" because Iseman's firm had telecom clients with business before his Senate committee. They say quote, "McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Iseman."

While Cordes also quoted the McCain campaign’s reaction that the story was a "hit-and-run smear campaign," she described the article this way: "The story was co-authored by four of The Times’ top political and investigative reporters and has reportedly been in the works for months." These were the same months when The Times decided to endorse John McCain for the Republican nomination.

After the report by Cordes, Smith talked to McCain campaign manager Rick Davis about the story. The interview took on the tone of a prosecutor grilling a suspect, rather than an objective inquiry:

This article seems to imply, but doesn't flat out say, that Senator McCain had an affair with Vicki Iseman. You want to respond to that?...Let me ask you this though because The Washington Post also reports in the paper this morning that Senator McCain's staffers tried at some point to deny Ms. Iseman access to the Senator's office or try to encourage the Senator not to see her. Can you deny that?...Alright, maybe the most significant allegations in this, though, is that Ms. Iseman is in fact a lobbyist, she's a partner in an important firm. McCain has flown on some of her clients' private jets. And the notion here is that because she had extraordinary access to him, that he in fact tried to influence legislation on her clients' behalf...Did Senator McCain directly contact Bill Keller, the Editor of The New York Times, to try to get him to not run this?

When Davis concluded the segment by claiming that The Times article was nothing more than "innuendo and implications," a skeptical Smith replied: "Alright, we shall see."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Breaking news overnight. John McCain claims it's a smear campaign. The New York Times front page that links him to this lobbyist.

7:01AM TEASER:

SMITH: And Republican front-runner John McCain blasted on the front pages of The New York Times. Paragraph four of The Times article says Mr. McCain, 71, and a lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship, not exactly the coverage you may be looking for if you’re running for president.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, this morning you’ll hear what a team of reporters have to say about it. McCain and his campaign manager are fighting back.

7:02AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Alright, let’s get right to our top story this morning. This bombshell report that Republican front-runner John McCain may have had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist who was a visitor to his office and traveled with him on a client’s corporate jet. He’ll respond today at a news conference. And in a moment we’re going to hear from McCain’s campaign manager. But first, the overnight developments. Here’s CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

NAMCY CORDES: The New York Times article quotes two unnamed former aides to McCain who say they joined in a series of confrontations with the Senator back in 1999 over his relationship with a lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, which they feared had become romantic in nature. According to The Times, the aides warned him "he was risking his campaign and career" because Iseman’s firm had telecom clients with business before his Senate committee. They say quote, "McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Iseman."

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any reaction to the substance of the article?

JOHN MCCAIN: I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment.

CORDES: But his campaign has seen it, and they put out a scathing press release, calling the article a "hit-and-run smear campaign," arguing that "Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics." The story was co-authored by four of The Times top political and investigative reporters and has reportedly been in the works for months. It stopped short, however, of alleging that an affair actually took place, or that a lobbyist received preferential treatment. Both the 71-year-old McCain and 40-year-old Iseman deny they had a romantic relationship.

TODD HARRIS: Where’s the beef in this story?

CORDES: Todd Harris was McCain’s traveling press secretary when McCain ran for president 8 years ago. The time period in question.

HARRIS: And I went virtually everywhere Senator McCain went and I never heard about a relationship. I don’t know about all of these secret meetings. I never saw anything like this.

CORDES: The presumptive Republican nominee has built his campaign on a reputation for straight talk, even when it comes to sticky subjects. Nancy Cordes CBS News, Washington.

SMITH: Joining us is John McCain’s Campaign Manager, Rick Davis. Good morning, sir.

RICK DAVIS: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: This article seems to imply, but doesn’t flat out say, that Senator McCain had an affair with Vicki Iseman. You want to respond to that?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean this is like the worst kind of tabloid journalism on the front page of The New York Times. And we deplored it last night, we’re going to push back today. We think it’s unfair, unjust, and inaccurate, and I think The New York Times has a lot to explain for. You said it best, all these things are implications, two unnamed sources and no facts in the article. If anything, they try and drudge up all the old "Keating 5" stuff, 20 years old, to try and legitimize what’s nothing more than a tabloid story.

SMITH: Let me ask you this though because The Washington Post also reports in the paper this morning that Senator McCain’s staffers tried at some point to deny Ms. Iseman access to the Senator’s office or try to encourage the Senator not to see her. Can you deny that?

DAVIS: You know, it’s right out of The New York Times piece. And what they did in The New York Times is they claimed unnamed people indicated that was the case, but John McCain’s own chief of staff, Mark Salter, said it never was the case. So somebody who’s quoted and willing to put themselves on the line says no way. But The New York Times, picked up by The Washington Post, and by the way many other newspapers across the country, print basically the fabrication from The Times.

SMITH: Alright, maybe the most significant allegations in this, though, is that Ms. Iseman is in fact a lobbyist, she’s a partner in an important firm. McCain has flown on some of her clients’ private jets. And the notion here is that because she had extraordinary access to him, that he in fact tried to influence legislation on her clients’ behalf.

DAVIS: I agree, Harry, that that is the most outrageous thing because they show absolutely no evidence of anything that he ever did for this lobbyist. And ironically they take the man who is probably most feared by every lobbyist in this town of Washington, the man who’s never done a favor for a lobbyist or a special interest, a man who has authored the ethics legislation, gone after the Jack Abramoffs of the world and really set the standard for ethical behavior in this town and without one shred of evidence, after talking to dozens of his former staffers, all of whom said this was not the case, didn’t name a single one of them or reference their interviews.

SMITH: Did Senator McCain directly contact Bill Keller, the Editor of The New York Times, to try to get him to not run this?

DAVIS: No. He never even tried to get him to not run it. He contacted Bill Keller because their journalists, the four mentioned earlier in your article, were running around town spreading this gossip to try and see what they could dredge up and it was inappropriate and unprofessional behavior by The New York Times. And what John McCain called is that that was what he was calling about. He’s never tried to influence an article, never tried to plant a question. I mean, John McCain has spent his entire career in the back of that bus having a dialogue with journalists. Everybody knows it. He’s the most successful politician in America. And yet, you know, they try to run a story that basically is full of innuendo and implications.

SMITH: Alright, we shall see. Rick Davis, thank you very much for your time this morning.

DAVIS: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC