Discussing reports about Sen. John McCain's ties to lobbyist Vicki Iseman, Pat Buchanan asserted: "I don't have a problem with John McCain writing a letter there, depending on what he says in the letter," adding, "[B]ut McCain shouldn't be denying that, I don't think, because it seems to me that's in the normal course of business of a congressman." But contrary to his description of McCain's actions as "the normal course" for a congressman, the FCC chairman at the time criticized McCain for his request, calling it "highly unusual."
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On the February 21 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, discussing February 21 articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post on Sen. John McCain's ties to telecommunications lobbyist Vicki Iseman -- including her role in what the Post called "a successful lobbying campaign to persuade McCain and other members of Congress to send letters to the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] on behalf of Paxson [Communications, now ION Media Networks Inc.]" -- MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan asserted: "I don't have a problem with John McCain writing a letter there, depending on what he says in the letter, 'Can you get off the dime and make a decision here?' " Buchanan added, "[B]ut McCain shouldn't be denying that, I don't think, because it seems to me that's in the normal course of business of a congressman." But contrary to Buchanan's description of actions by McCain -- who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the FCC, and was acting on behalf of a nonconstituent company, facts that Buchanan did not note -- as "in the normal course of business of a congressman," as both the Post and the Times reported, then-FCC chairman William E. Kennard criticized McCain for his request, calling it "highly unusual."
On the February 21 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep asked senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams whether McCain "ever d[id] anything for" Iseman's clients. Williams replied: "Well, yes," adding, "[T]he McCain campaign has been very clear in saying that nothing out of the ordinary was done for these clients." Like Buchanan, Williams did not note that FCC commissioners challenged the notion that McCain's letters were "the normal course" for a member of Congress, as the Times and the Post did.
On January 6, 2000, the Times published a December 1999 letter from McCain to Kennard and excerpts from Kennard's reply, as well as a reply from then-FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. McCain wrote: "I respectfully request that each member of the commission advise me, in writing no later than close of business on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1999, whether you have already acted upon these applications in the course of the notation voting process. If your answer to the latter question is no, please state further whether you will, or will not, be prepared to act on these applications at the open meeting on Dec. 15. If your answer to both of the proceeding questions is no, please explain why." McCain concluded: "This letter is not written to obtain favorable disposition of any matter on behalf of any party to any proceeding before the commission."
Kennard's response, in part, read:
As you know, this application raises important and very difficult policy issues. I wholeheartedly agree that prompter commission action on this matter would have been preferable.
Your letter, however, comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process as the individual commissioners finalize their views and their votes on this matter. I must respectfully note that it is highly unusual for the commissioners to be asked to publicly announce their voting status on a matter that is still pending. I am concerned that inquiries concerning the individual deliberations of each commissioner could have procedural and substantive impacts on the commission's deliberations and, thus, on the due process rights of the parties.
And Tristani responded in part:
Respectfully, I cannot comply with your request. In order to preserve the integrity of our processes, it is my practice not to publicly disclose whether I have voted or when I will be voting on items in restricted proceedings prior to their adoption by the full commission.
In its article about McCain's relationship with Iseman, the Post described McCain's interactions with then-Paxson Communications head Lowell Paxson in the following way:
In the years that McCain chaired the commerce committee, Iseman lobbied for Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, the head of what used to be Paxson Communications, now Ion Media Networks, and was involved in a successful lobbying campaign to persuade McCain and other members of Congress to send letters to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Paxson.
In late 1999, McCain wrote two letters to the FCC urging a vote on the sale to Paxson of a Pittsburgh television station. The sale had been highly contentious in Pittsburgh and involved a multipronged lobbying effort among the parties to the deal.
At the time he sent the first letter, McCain had flown on Paxson's corporate jet four times to appear at campaign events and had received $20,000 in campaign donations from Paxson and its law firm. The second letter came on Dec. 10, a day after the company's jet ferried him to a Florida fundraiser that was held aboard a yacht in West Palm Beach.
The Post also reported that "when the letters became public, William E. Kennard, chairman of the FCC at the time, denounced them as 'highly unusual' coming from McCain, whose committee chairmanship gave him oversight of the agency." Similarly, the Times reported that McCain "sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman."
From the February 21 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
BRZEZINSKI: I found very interesting when McCain's attorney came on Morning Joe this morning and said that they met repeatedly with The New York Times, of course trying to get them not to run this story, and gave them several -- I think it was 14, the number he said --
BUCHANAN: Yeah. Twelve, right?
BRZEZINSKI: -- I'll have to check the tape -- instances in which John McCain made a decision -- 12. OK, there's the number. Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: Voted against their interests.
BRZEZINSKI: Voted against or made a decision against this client in question's interests.
BRZEZINSKI: That's -- I mean, I'll look again, but I don't think that's in the piece.
SCARBOROUGH: Talk about that.
BUCHANAN: Yeah, well, I think that -- well, that suggests -- look, I think where McCain makes a mistake where he says, "I've never done a favor for anybody and I've never done" -- look, I was in the White House. People come into you, I know. Ted Turner had a problem with the FCC. They come in and talk to you, and that's where you learn about problems. And this is about some TV station in Pittsburgh, and the guy makes some case, "Look, I'm losing money. I need a decision. Would you write and tell them to make a decision?" There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, and congressmen -- because a lot of these regulators, some of them can be ham-fisted, some of them can be dictatorial, some of them can be problems -- you've got to watch what you write in the letter, obviously. But I don't have a problem with John McCain writing a letter there, depending on what he says in the letter, "Can you get off the dime and make a decision here?"
SCARBOROUGH: Pat --
BUCHANAN: Yeah, and so -- but McCain shouldn't be denying that, I don't think, because it seems to me that's in the normal course of business of a congressman.
From the February 21 broadcast of National Public Radio's Morning Edition:
INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. This may be the moment when John McCain gets the normal treatment facing most presidential front-runners. People scrutinize the candidate's life even more intensely than they did before. And this morning, John McCain, the crusader against special interests, can open his New York Times if he wants to find a long exploration of his relationships with lobbyists. NPR News analyst Juan Williams is tracking the presidential campaign and joins us. Good morning.
WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's the story say about McCain?
WILLIAMS: The New York Times is reporting on its front page that Senator McCain was involved in a very close relationship with a number of lobbyists, including one particular woman --
INSKEEP: This is in the year 2000, you're talking about -- his campaign for the presidency then.
WILLIAMS: That's right, and it became so close that it was a matter of concern because there was all sorts of possibilities of a scandal that would damage his reputation --
INSKEEP: Did he ever do anything --
WILLIAMS: -- even beyond the idea that he's a Washington reformer.
INSKEEP: Did he ever do anything for her clients?
WILLIAMS: Well, yes. Her clients included Cablevision, Echostar, and the like, and there were some efforts on behalf of those clients, but the McCain campaign has been very clear in saying that nothing out of the ordinary was done for these clients and also, pointedly denying that there was any romantic link.
INSKEEP: Now given that the story here goes on to describe his relationships with other business leaders and so forth -- and we should emphasize professional relationships here -- favors he accepted and so forth, how much of a problem is this going to be for John McCain?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's a matter of what happens now. This morning already the McCain campaign says that the senator will have a major press conference and address this issue, but already, what you can see is that people who were opposed to Senator McCain on the Republican side because of his moderate stances are seizing it as an opportunity to portray him as a man who is not a true conservative and a man who is in tow to the power of Washington lobbyists and therefore not a good representative of the GOP in the November campaign. So, it may be that you now have people who didn't like John McCain who plan to use this to try and unsettle what looks to be a sure route to the nomination.