Iseman Speaks

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Vicki Iseman, fresh off a lawsuit against The New York Times, sat down with CBS's Maggie Rodriguez for her first interview first TV interview (Iseman gave her first exclusive to National Journal's Edward T. Pound in October) since the campaign story that became a scandal in its own right. On the Times' investigation of her, she says, "It was nuts." (Video link here)

Iseman, who the Times famously implied may have had an affair with John McCain in 2000, dropped her defamation lawsuit against the paper earlier this month. The paper printed statement from Iseman's lawyers, along with a joint statement penned by the lawyers and its editors notifying readers that the paper had not intended to conclude a romantic relationship:

A Note to Readers

An article published on Feb. 21, 2008, about Senator John McCain and his record as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest included references to Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist. The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.

Iseman was cool and composed in today's "Early Show" interview--and quite obviously displeased, flatly denying she had ever had an affair with McCain.

Iseman laid the blame squarely on John Weaver, a political adviser to McCain at the time and the only McCain staffer quoted in the original story: "This all went back to one singular person, a political operative who had left the senator's campaign under acrimonious circumstances," Iseman said.

The Times reported that Weaver had become concerned about the appearance of romantic impropriety between Iseman and McCain, following a campaign trip on which she had accompanied the senator. Consequently, according to the Times, Weaver asked her not to hang around the senator anymore.

*Added 3:42 p.m. (see correction below): The Times reported that Weaver met with Iseman "to ask her to stay away from the campaign." Weaver said in an e-mail that he arranged a meeting with Iseman because of a concern that her "involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort [of taking on special interests]."

Iseman gave a somewhat different story today. According to Iseman, the meeting with Weaver over coffee had focused on her feedback--which McCain requested, aboard a campaign jet--on a speech he had given. Iseman had said she liked it better when he interacted with the crowd more.

"I didn't know if John Weaver had written the speech," Iseman said. "His ego, I guess, had been bruised somewhat, and [he had decided that] he was going to very aggressively and assertively make a point to me that my opinion was something that I should not share with the senator, whether he asked for it or not."

As the interview gets juicier, Iseman recounts Times reporters contacting her former post-college rommates (finding their names on old utility bills) and flying to rural Mississippi to talk to a woman she had worked with ten years earlier. "It was nuts," Iseman said.

After the story was published, according to Iseman, people refused to get on elevators with her, scolded her in public, and called her grandmother to ask why Iseman wasn't speaking out.

One question today's interview raises is: should she have given it earlier, say, a week after the Times published its story?

The story certainly didn't damage McCain the way its headline, and the implications so many read into it, suggested it might have. To the contrary: conservatives' criticism of the Times as a liberal megaphone was, in the eyes of many, legitimized as McCain's campaign slammed it for the piece.

Things couldn't have gone better for McCain, politically. After all, it was McCain vs. the Times, not Iseman vs. the Times.

Today's interview seems a belated day in court for Iseman. Public opinion has rendered its verdict on the story, but until today, the woman who was its object equally, along with McCain, has not, for one reason or another, trounced on the Times reporters *on television the same way McCain did during the campaign.

Correction: the NY Times did not report that John Weaver felt there was a romantic link between Iseman and Sen. McCain--simply that Weaver met with her after concerns were raised about her presence in the campaign, relating to the campaign's message of taking on special interests.

Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about her.

"Our political messaging during that time period centered around taking on the special interests and placing the nation's interests before either personal or special interest," Mr. Weaver continued. "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort."

Mr. Weaver added that the brief conversation was only about "her conduct and what she allegedly had told people, which made its way back to us." He declined to elaborate.



 

From the NY Times story, as originally published:

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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