Phoenix Reporter Details McCain’s Sordid Political Past

Former John McCain cohort Charles Keating, Jr., right, glances at the cameras as he stops outside Federal court following a hearing in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 1998. Photo by Susan Sterner / AP.

‘He was known then for cavorting in the Bahamas with Charlie Keating, rather than for fighting for campaign finance reform and limited government spending.’
By Black Max / August 8, 2008

Amy Silverman knows her subject. She writes,

I’ve been a writer and editor at [the Phoenix] New Times for 15 years. For much of that time, I wrote about Arizona politics, which is to say that I wrote about John McCain. It’s still odd to see the guy in the spotlight, because for quite a while, I was pretty much the only one covering him. I never did fall for him in the way reporters fall for politicians, probably because he wasn’t much to fall for back in the early 1990s. In those days, McCain was still rehabilitating the image he’d later sell to the national media. He was known then for cavorting in the Bahamas with Charlie Keating, rather than for fighting for campaign finance reform and limited government spending.

Silverman has written an excellent compendium of all things McCain. Think of it as McCain 101 — a primer for pulling information about Grumpy McBush to dazzle your friends and befuddle your enemies (not to mention phone banking and such). I’ll share some material from the story below the fold, but you should definitely read the entire thing. It’s a big one; pack a lunch.

Let’s do it in timeline format, kinda like we do it at the History Commons:.

1982: McCain, recently remarried to Arizona beer heiress Cindy Hensley, moves to Phoenix and wins a seat in the US House. He quickly forges a relationship with the Democratic House eminence from Tucson, Mo Udall, who although a strong progressive, has always welcomed the opportunity to work with Republicans.

1982-88: McCain takes over $100,000 in contributions from our well-remembered buddy from Lincoln S&L, Charles Keating, and his employees. McCain and Keating are very close, with McCain frequently joining Keating on outings to the Bahamas, on Keating’s dime. Keating also has what Silverman calls a “business relationship” with Jim Hensley, Cindy Hensley’s father, and with Cindy as well.

1986: During McCain’s race for the Senate, Arizona Democrats ask the Udall staffers not to allow McCain to cling too closely to Udall, worrying that McCain is using Udall as a campaign tool. Udall aide Bob Neuman later says he tries to be subtle, but when McCain figures out what Neuman wants, he bawls Neuman out using words the aide refuses to repeat. Neuman later says McCain was so extreme in his reaction that, as Silverman writes, he thought “there was something really wrong with the guy.” McCain is running for Barry Goldwater’s seat, with Goldwater’s endorsement. But after the Keating scandal, Goldwater loses much of his respect for McCain, and, Silverman writes, “soon found he had to stop McCain from using his good name.”

1986: McCain jokes to an audience from the National League of Cities and Towns, asking if they’ve heard “the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly, and left to die?” The punch line: “When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?'” Neuman later says, “John McCain is the Eddie Haskell of politics. You can attribute that to me, and he’ll kill me for it.”

1987-1988: McCain battles against campaign finance reform, in part on behalf of his pal Keating.

April 12, 1988: Governor Evan Mecham (R-Lunatic) has just been impeached, and Democrat Rose Mofford, the Secretary of State, takes over the position. Mofford, a kindly lady with an astonishing snow-white beehive bouffant, is as non-partisan as one can be and still belong to a political party, gracious and well-liked by just about everyone in the state government. But not by McCain and some of his buds. (Disclaimer: Mrs. Max, who describes herself as either a Goldwater Republican or a Reagan Democrat depending on the day of the week, knows Mofford, and likes her tremendously.) McCain and his pals want to eject Mofford using the same recall process that was launched to yank Mecham. Eight days into her tenure, Mofford goes to DC to take part in what one aide later calls the “perfunctory wet kiss” meeting with the Arizona congressional delegation. The meeting is strictly ceremonial, or so most people think. Mofford is quite conversant with her duties as secretary of state, primarily the elections department. She doesn’t know a great deal about the Central Arizona Project (CAP) or the technical details of water provision in that dry state. And in eight days, she hasn’t been able to learn a hell of a lot. She speaks before the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee on Appropriations about CAP. McCain is not a member of that committee, but his Republican buddy from Idaho, James McClure, is. McClure asks Mofford, in Silverman’s words,

a series of questions that would leave any water expert’s mouth dry. Her staff jumped in to try to answer, but even so, ultimately they had to file an addendum to the testimony.

Sandbagged. The publisher of the Arizona Republic, Pat Murphy, who considers himself a friend of McCain’s, is “crushed” by the incident. It is, Silverman writes, “the beginning of the end of his respect for and friendship with McCain.” During lunch, a “mischievously glee[ful]” McCain brags about his setup of Mofford. As Murphy recalls, “he had slipped some highly technical questions to [McClure] to ask Mofford–questions she wouldn’t be prepared to answer or expected to answer. Flabbergasted, I asked McCain why would he want to sabotage Mofford’s testimony, when in fact the CAP was the nonpartisan pet of Republicans and Democrats–such as far-left Udall and far-right Goldwater–since its inception. His reply, as near as I remember, was, ‘I’ll embarrass a Democrat any time I get the chance.'” Murphy accompanies McCain back to his office, where reporters ask about a rumor that McCain had tried to sabotage Mofford’s testimony. Murphy is floored to hear him answer, in classic straight-talk fashion, “I’d never do anything like that.” Murphy later learns that McCain had even brought in a private film crew to film the testimony for use in embarrassing Moffatt in the recall election. The Arizona Supreme Court strikes down the recall effort, so McCain’s gamesmanship did little except destroy his friendship with Murphy and embitter Mofford. While she doesn’t talk much about the McCains, having known Cindy since she was little, she will tell Silverman, the CAP hearing, “hurt me more than anything … to be set up like that.” She also says that McCain is “certainly no Barry Goldwater or Mo Udall.”

Late 1980s: McCain hosts an event ostensibly to honor Goldwater, but in reality to raise funds for his Senate campaign. Goldwater initially refuses to participate and tells McCain to give half of the proceeds to the Arizona Republican Party. McCain retools the event to honor Reagan instead. Goldwater does speak at the event, but later writes to McCain, “You will recall during my speech at the dinner for the president in Phoenix, I announced that you were going to give half of the funds you raised to the State Republican Party. I am told by the Party, that you still owe them $35,000, and unless you pay all of it, or most of it, they cannot meet their payroll next Wednesday.” McCain will continue to use Goldwater, a legend in Arizona politics, as well as Udall as a campaign touchstone for himself.

1990: Facing criticism over his relationship with Keating and an upcoming re-election battle, McCain flip-flops and becomes a proponent of campaign finance reform and reducing government spending. Silverman calls McCain’s efforts “a farce. McCain famously sponsored a law designed to control special interests’ grip on Washington, but at the same time, he took money from those interests.” She adds details and links that I won’t go into here, but her summation of his efforts: “sadly cosmetic.” What he has done is take such a shrill stance against certain types of earmarks–pork, in the vernacular–that Arizona has lost out on federal funding for, among other worthy projects, a program at a Scottsdale hospital that trains military medical personnel in trauma care. Some of that training has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan, for those who were lucky enough to receive it before the program lost much of its funding. Silverman notes:

Arizona’s political forefathers–Mo Udall, Barry Goldwater, Carl Hayden — pushed through one of the biggest pork barrel projects in the history of the United States Congress: the Central Arizona [Water] Project. If they hadn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a state to represent. As a native Arizonan, those are the politicians I grew up learning about. McCain just doesn’t compare.

1991 and After: When Udall leaves Congress, McCain, who had voted with Udall on some environmental issues, quits supporting those issues, and begins to rack up low marks from environmental groups. One of his most recent is a zero from the League of Conservation Voters. He has refused to oppose efforts to mine uranium from sites perilously near the Grand Canyon, and refuses to support proposed changes to the Mining Act of 1872, oblivious to the fact that Arizona is a testament to the environmental degradation that comes with strip mining and other practices. He is well remembered for threatening the job of a Forest Service official who disagreed with him on the topic of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. However, in campaign appearances, McCain regularly invokes the name and environmental passion of Udall. In April 2008, Newsweek writes, “He traces his environmental awareness to the sainted Rep. Mo Udall, an Arizona Democrat who took McCain as a young congressman under his tutelage … To environmentalists, that’s like saying you learned about civil rights by driving around Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr.” It’s doubtful that Newsweek bothered to find much on the other side of the story.

Spring 1994: Silverman begins hearing rumors of Cindy McCain’s addiction to prescription drugs. She learns of Tom Gosinski, who had been fired from his position as director of government and international affairs for Cindy McCain’s nonprofit charity, the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT), which provides medical relief to poor countries. Gosinski had gone to the DEA and told them that Cindy McCain was using an AVMT doctor to illegally prescribe her drugs in her employees’ names. Gosinski was one of those employees, and he was worried that he might be culpable. Cindy McCain had had numerous prescriptions written for her, some with as many as 500 pills on a single refill. Dr. John Max Johnson, her AVMT drug connection, told the DEA that she kept them in her personal luggage. Gosinski had not just ratted her out, but filed a wrongful-termination suit against the charity. That alerted John McCain’s lawyer, John Dowd, to the situation. Dowd charged Gosinski with extortion. The extortion investigation produded public records that Silverman finds and uses for her reporting. But the McCains learn of her records request, and try to inoculate themselves against her reports, acknowledging Cindy’s prescription drug addictions and blaming it on her back surgeries and the stress from the Keating scandal. They also claim, falsely, that Gosinski is trying to blackmail them. In her September 8, 1994 story, Silverman prints the following excerpt from Gosinski’s personal journal, an entry from July 1992: “I have always wondered why John McCain has done nothing to fix the problem. He must either not see that a problem exists or does not choose to do anything about it. It would seem that it would be in everyone’s best interest to come to terms with the situation. And do whatever is necessary to fix it. There is so much at risk … During my short tenure at AVMT, I have been surrounded by what on the surface appears to be the ultimate all-American family. In reality, I am working for a very sad, lonely woman whose marriage of convenience to a U.S. Senator has driven her to: distance herself from friends; cover feelings of despair with drugs; and replace lonely moments with self-indulgences.” Cindy avoids criminal charges by going into a drug rehab program.

1997: McCain is a frequent and steady visitor to Mo Udall, who is slowly dying of Parkinson’s disease. Neuman is pleased with McCain’s loyalty, but he is stunned when McCain brings reporter Michael Lewis with him to Udall’s hospital bedside. (McCain is unable to wake Udall during the visit. Udall will die in 1998.) Neuman later recalls, “That was devastating to me, that he brought in a reporter. I thought that was crossing the line, and it destroyed me.” Silverman writes, “I’m sure I would have accepted the offer to go the hospital, as well. I can’t blame Lewis, but maybe the sight of the legendary Mo Udall in his final, sad days wasn’t McCain’s to share.”

2000: As the presidential primaries heat up, Silverman flies to Washington to be interviewed by 20/20’s Sam Donaldson on McCain. After the interview, Donaldson decides he doesn’t want to report anything negative about McCain, and cans the interview. The same thing happens when she helps put together background research for 60 Minutes, when Mike Wallace decides he wants to do a positive story on McCain.

Whee doggies. And there’s plenty more in the article: this is just the highlights. Even better, there are links to other New Times stories on McCain. So get to reading, and share the wealth.

Update: Amy Silverman writes in that an entire compendium of New Times links to stories about John McCain can be found on the Vintage McCain page on the newspaper’s web site.

Source / Daily Kos

Postmodern John McCain: the presidential candidate some Arizonans know — and loathe by Amy Silverman / Phoenix New Times / August 7, 2008

Thanks to Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog

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2 Responses to Phoenix Reporter Details McCain’s Sordid Political Past

  1. Gad, I was looking at my old boss when I came back this evening to read!

    I could have written this entry (and much more).

    Keating, Muething, and Klekamp – 1978 to 1979 (late). The sad truth is Carl Linder was the real man behind Keating; Keating was his attorney – his puppet (as all of those lawyers were).

    Linder was being investigated by the SEC in late-1979. Linder

  2. Excuse me: JOG WHERE CRANSTON DID – Laguna Beach, CA – he was going to the local hospital for various tests, and would jog in the early a.m. – his eyes; his nose – his face, were something that looked like an evil being (thank goodness he’s long since died).

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