"I'm not ashamed of anything the firm did," McCain adviser Charlie Black says of his days as the principle in one of Washington's most influential lobbying firms. "If they want to use it to fire up the left wing, well, that's fine."
Black is referring to a campaign by liberal watchdog and political groups to pressure McCain into dumping Black, now a top McCain campaign strategist. Today, MoveOn's political action fund released a video accusing Black of lobbying "for some of the world's worst tyrants."
Say this for Mr. Black: he has been forthcoming about his associations.
He told me, as he has told other reporters, that his firm ran every potential foreign client by the State Department and/or the White House in whatever administration was in power and asked whether the scope of the work fit with American foreign policy goals.
"A lot of times it wasn't [within the scope], and we didn't do it," he said.
Black allowed that "in some cases, it went bad."
When Black took on Ferdinand Marcos as a client, the president of the Phillipines was democratically elected. "When he tried to steal the election, Reagan pulled the plug and we resigned the account the same day." Marcos, among other crimes, authorized the arrest of political opponents and was a kleptocrat.
On Mobuto Sese Seko, Black says that the State Department was encourarging him to hold parliamentary elections and his firm advised Sese Seko on how to conduct such elections. The election took place; Sese Seko didn't like the election results and he cancelled the election results and we quit." Sese Seko became a dictator.
Other examples cited by MoveOn and other critics: Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi and Ahmad Chalabi.
As Black points out, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly -- now BKSH and Associates, is a bipartisan firm; it's CEO, R. Scott Pastrick, is a former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and a supporter of Hillary Clinton's. (It's now owned by Burston Marsteller, which, of course, is run by Mark Penn.)
I asked Black about McCain's new conflict of interest policy.
" I think it's mostly a clarification. McCain has had pretty high standards, always. I don't know of anyone who worked on the campaign who would have gone and tried to lobby Mccain and his staff."
The campaign supports Mr. Black -- aides say that he's an integral part of the team and will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
And Black insists that his lobbying days are over. "I'm a retired lobbyist," he says.