Monday, August 27, 2018

Tributes to John McCain tend to whitewash portions of his long career where "maverick" tendencies were overshadowed by poor judgment and shaky ethics

John McCain and Sarah Palin
One could not scroll through cable-news networks the past two days without seeing a tribute to U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who died on Saturday of brain cancer. Most of the tributes focused on McCain's status as a long-term senator, a one-time GOP presidential nominee, and perhaps America's most famous prisoner of war. Much of the programming portrayed McCain as a "maverick," a man of honor who placed integrity over political considerations.

The McCain story, however, was not as pristine or heroic as the tributes would have you believe. From his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, to his "improper relationship" with a female lobbyist, to his unseemly cash-driven dances with Russian and gaming interests, McCain frequently showed dreadful judgment and ethics that were more than a little shaky.

In fact, McCain engaged in an apparent cover-up that had a profoundly negative impact on the already toxic political culture of Alabama. McCain's tendency to be a poor judge of character and competence was on full display in Alabama during the run-up to his 2008 run for the White House.

McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a VP running mate might go down as the most glaring gaffe in American political history -- and Laura McGann, of Vox, writes that the decision led to the current Republican Party turmoil swirling around Donald Trump:

The party of Donald Trump began almost 10 years ago to the day, when John McCain tapped Sarah Palin to join his ticket.

It’s one of the most important moments of McCain’s career. He proved willing to empower a demagogue when he thought doing so would improve his political fortunes, exactly the sin so many of his colleagues in the Republican Party have committed since Trump won their party’s nomination. . . .

Palin’s big moment in front of a national audience was at the Republican National Convention. Her big opener was to ask the crowd: “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” Her answer: “Lipstick.”

Her showdown with Joe Biden at the first vice presidential debate was the most anticipated moment of the campaign. The debate began with a handshake between the two candidates and Palin asking Biden, “Hey, can I call you Joe?” It went downhill from there. She stumbled through or garbled talking points on basic policy questions, weaving in half a dozen references to “maverick” and “a team of mavericks.” The event drew 70 million viewers — the largest audience for a vice presidential debate in history.

Palin’s run solidified the Republican Party’s comfort with a candidate who would say absurdities. When Katie Couric wanted to know what newspapers she read, Palin answered, “Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.”

Even though McCain and Palin were bested by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Palin inspired a slew of copycats, unleashing a political style and a values system that animated the Tea Party movement and laid the groundwork for a Trump presidency.

During the 2008 presidential campaign against Barack Obama, The New York Times reported that McCain had been involved in an "inappropriate relationship" with a female lobbyist name Vicki Iseman. From The Times:

Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

The Times report hardly was a model of journalistic clarity. We called it "wishy-washy, at best, never directly stating that McCain and Iseman had an affair." We also noted it made ample use of anonymous sources , a common journalistic practice for which Times reporter Campbell Robertson bashed me after Alabama political thugs had me kidnapped and incarcerated for five months over a case of alleged defamation (which never was proven in court) involving the relationship between GOP operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke.

Iseman wound up suing The Times, and the two sides reached an out-of-court settlement.

As for Russia, McCain engaged in dubious dalliances with the nation's oligarchs some 10 years before the Trump crime family made it "fashionable." Considerable evidence suggests McCain's tough talk on Russia was mostly for show. The 2008 McCain campaign used the services of Paul Manafort, the former Trump adviser who now is a convicted felon, and the candidate met twice with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian aluminum magnate who has alleged ties to organized crime. From an article at

McCain actually met twice with Deripaska, a Russian businessman and Putin ally whose visa was blocked by the United States amidst intelligence community concerns about his ties to Moscow. The meetings were arranged by Manafort and his lobbying firm partner Rick Davis, who later would become McCain's campaign manager, according to interviews and documents. Deripaska, a metals magnet, is president of United Company RUSAL, and is considered to be one of the richest men in the world worth an estimated at $5.1 billion, according to Forbes.My sense is that Davis and Manafort, who were already doing pro-Putin work against American national interests, were using potential meetings with McCain --- who didn't know this and neither did we until after the fact -- as bait to secure more rubles from the oligarchs,” John Weaver, one of McCain’s top advisers at the time, told Circa in an interview this month.

Davis was McCain's campaign manager in both 2000 and 2008. Manafort, who was Trump's campaign manager for a brief time, resigned in August 2016, over questions of prior work with Ukrainian political parties.

John McCain boards a yacht in Montenegro.
Deripaska would show up by McCain a second time, during an official trip to Montenegro, another place where the Davis-Manafort firm was offering advice.
Deripaska and Davis joined McCain and other officials at a dinner hosted by the country’s government in August 2006, and some of the attendees went on to take a cruise aboard a yacht where drinks and pastry were served in honor of McCain’s 70th birthday.

The yacht’s host was another lobbying client, Raffaello Follieri, a young Italian who gained fame by dating the American actress Anne Hathaway. In 2008, shortly before McCain lost the presidential election, Follieri pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.

Why would McCain meet twice with a Russian billionaire who has been described in the press as a mobster? McCain aides have spent years skirting that question. But when the United States issued sanctions earlier this year against dozens of Russian oligarchs, there was little room for doubt that Deripaska is an unsavory character. From a report at The Hill:

Among those hit by the penalties was Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate who once had ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

According the Treasury Department, the sanctions on Deripaska, 50, were prompted by allegations of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegal wiretapping, extortion and racketeering.

Less than two months before the 2008 presidential election, The New York Times reported on McCain's longstanding ties to the gaming industry. From our post, providing a summary on the issue:

Those of us in Alabama already know about Republicans and their sleazy ties to gambling. But what do we learn specifically about McCain from today's Times piece and the investigative work of reporters Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr.?

* He has gambled at least once a month for most of his adult life, and weekend betting marathons in Las Vegas have been regular events;

* Only six members of Congress have received more financial support from the gaming industry than McCain--and five of those are from the gambling-rich states of Nevada and New Jersey;

* Mr. "Fiscal Responsibility" McCain, has voted twice for casino tax breaks that have cost the government $326 million over 12 years;

* Sig Rogich, a Las Vegas GOP kingmaker, raised some $2 million for McCain;

* Several McCain associates benefited financially from the [Jack] Abramoff investigation. John Weaver, McCain's chief political strategist, made $100,000 over four months in 2005 for serving as a consultant to a tribe caught in the inquiry.

All of this does not come as a surprise to us here at Legal Schnauzer. The marriage between Republican greed and big gaming dollars has infected Alabama politics for years.

One of the ugliest chapters in John McCain's professional life involved Alabama and gaming. That will be the focus of an upcoming post.

Until then, we could use a comic break. A video below of the classic Saturday Night Live skit about the Palin-Biden debate (featuring Tina Fey as an unforgettable Sarah Palin) is just the ticket.

That's where Jason Sudeikis, as Joe Biden, uttered these famous words:

"Look, I love John McCain. He's one of my dearest friends. But at the same time, he's also dangerously unbalanced. I mean let's be frank, John McCain -- and again, this is a man I would take a bullet for -- is bad at his job and mentally unstable. 
"As my mother would say, 'God love him, but he's a raging maniac' -- and a dear, dear friend."

(To be continued)

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