Borger uncritically touted McCain's intention to “light a fire under his colleagues” on lobbying reform

Reporting on the disappointed reaction of Sen. John McCain to the lobbying reform bill that was passed by the Senate on March 29, CBS' Gloria Borger mentioned McCain's pledge that continued congressional investigations into the Jack Abramoff scandal should “light a fire under [McCain's] colleagues.” However, Borger ignored reports that, as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, McCain steered the investigation into the Abramoff scandal away from examining any potential wrongdoing by his Republican colleagues.

During the March 29 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, contributor Gloria Borger reported on the disappointed reaction of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to the lobbying reform bill that was passed by the Senate that day. Passage of the bill, which McCain voted against, followed the initial investigation by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Borger noted McCain's assertion that continued investigations by both the Indian Affairs and Finance Committees “should light a fire under [McCain's] colleagues.” However in reporting McCain's pledge to “light a fire under his colleagues,” Borger ignored reports that, as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, McCain steered the investigation into the Abramoff scandal away from examining any potential wrongdoing by his Republican colleagues. According to a March 10, 2005, report by Roll Call, McCain assured Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) they would not be caught up in the investigation into how Abramoff bilked $82 million from the American Indian tribes he represented, stating, “We stop when we find out where the money went.”

This is not the first instance in which Borger has suggested McCain is a paragon of lobbying reform. As Media Matters for America previously noted, during a February 6 Evening News report on a dispute over lobbying reform between McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Borger uncritically presented McCain's version of the dispute. Noting that McCain accused Obama of distancing himself from McCain's reform proposals for “partisan reasons,” Borger proclaimed: “It's very clear that lobbying reform is a very personal issue for John McCain. It's very important to John McCain.”

From the March 29 broadcast of the CBS Evening News:

BORGER: Jack Abramoff's Florida problems don't change a thing in Washington. He's still singing to prosecutors here about a congressional bribery scandal. At first, that scared Congress straight, but memories are short. The reform bill passed by the Senate today is hardly the ethics overhaul once promised. What grade would you give it?

MCCAIN: I'd give it a D.

BORGER: All that talk about ending secret pork barrel projects known as earmarks.

MCCAIN: We really don't address that sufficiently.

BORGER: And ending cheap congressional travel on corporate jets.

MCCAIN: They only pay first class air fare to ride around anywhere they want in a corporate jet. A lot of Americans would like to be able to do that.

BORGER: And establishing an ethics office to oversee Congress.

MCCAIN: Which has been voted down.

BORGER: All that's left of the grand ideas are small. More disclosure by lobbyists about their contact with members. And a ban on free meals and gifts. But some say these are not the big-ticket items that buy access.

DAN DANNER (executive vice president, Public Policy and Political, National Federation of Independent Business): The two big problems clearly are travel and very exclusive trips to somewhere, and earmarks.

BORGER: Dan Danner is a lobbyist for small business. Do you think lobbyists for big corporations are breathing easier today than they were in January after the Abramoff indictment?

DANNER: Probably so. Probably so. They probably thought that everything that was happening in the past would be not allowed in the future, and clearly that's not going to be the case.

BORGER: Unless Congress gets scared into more action. McCain tells CBS News his committee investigating Abramoff should light a fire under his colleagues.

MCCAIN: Obviously, the enthusiasm has waned, but there will be more indictments. I hope it reignites our enthusiasm.

BORGER: Senator McCain voted against this bill, and more indictments would certainly make Congress nervous. But for now, one Republican told me they're just trying to get through the election -- Russ.

From the March 10, 2005, edition (subscription required) of Roll Call:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has assured his colleagues that his expanding investigation into the activities of a former GOP lobbyist and a half-dozen of his tribal casino clients is not directed at revealing ethically questionable actions by Members of Congress.

At a Senate Republican luncheon last Wednesday, McCain told the gathering that his own probe, being run through the Indian Affairs Committee, is simply looking into potential “fraudulent” activities perpetrated against the tribes by Jack Abramoff and his associates.

“It's not our responsibility in any way to involve ourselves in the ethics process [of Senators],” McCain said Wednesday, explaining the comments he made to his fellow GOP Senators. “That was not the responsibility of the Indian Affairs Committee.”

McCain's comments to Republicans, made at the weekly lunch of the GOP's Steering Committee, came on the same day a trio of stories landed in Washington newspapers raising questions about the legislative actions taken by two GOP Senators and political donations to an interest group established in 1997 by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Because of those stories - and several other news reports touching on Abramoff's relationship with Members - McCain said he wanted to let Senators know that he was not trying to air any of their dirty laundry.

“There were all kinds of rumors that were flying,” he said. None of the stories were sourced to the committee and McCain said he played no role in them.

His investigation, in which a new round of hearings are expected later this spring, would continue to instead center on “where Indian tribes were defrauded,” and focus specifically on the $82 million that Abramoff and his public relations associate, Mike Scanlon, charged to six tribes over a three-year period, McCain said.

His disclaimer came as two Senators involved in the latest round of Abramoff stories, Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and David Vitter (R-La.), said they welcomed any investigation and promised to help McCain in any way.


McCain said Wednesday that his committee continues to examine all the financial angles of where the $82 million ended up, as well as other political and charitable contributions the tribes made at Abramoff's request. But he reiterated that he was following the money trail, not the legislative actions taken by Members of Congress. “We stop when we find out where the money went,” he said.