Republican presidential candidate John McCain has long prided himself as being a "straight shooter" when talking about himself and his beliefs. The Arizona senator was the darling of independent voters in his 2000 run for the White House by railing against the overbearing influence of lobbyists over members of Congress.
But McCain's reputation as a opponent of lobbyists' influence took a severe blow last week when The New York Times published a lengthy article on Wednesday that McCain once had a close relationship with a female lobbyist whose clients had business before his Senate committee.
The newspaper reported that aides to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign were so worried about the relationship that they confronted McCain and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.
The Times story was published just hours after McCain, in what opponents of torture denounced as a damningly hypocritical about-face, voted against a measure that would bar the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods on terror suspects.
Even more shocking, McCain called on President Bush to veto the bill, which would restrict the CIA to using only the 19 interrogation techniques listed in the Army field manual.
His vote is controversial because the manual prohibits waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that McCain has long denounced as torture. But incredibly, McCain doesn't want the CIA bound by the manual and its prohibitions.
'My Record Is Clear' on Torture, McCain Says
"I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment," McCain said. "So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate" international rules against torture.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker noted that McCain believes that waterboarding is already banned by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which includes an amendment he himself wrote barring inhumane treatment of prisoners. The act prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all detainees in U.S. custody, including CIA prisoners.
CIA Director Michael Hayden has said court decisions and current law, including the Detainee Treatment Act, cast doubt on whether waterboarding would be legal now. Hayden prohibited its use in CIA interrogations in 2006; it has not been used since 2003, he said. Justice Department officials have said they haven't resolved the legality of waterboarding since such legislation was passed.
The legislation bars the CIA from using waterboarding, sensory deprivation or other harsh coercive methods to break a prisoner who refuses to answer questions. Those practices were banned by the military in 2006.
McCain: Veto Preferable to 'Signing Statement' Against Bill a President Signs Into Law
President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, which cleared the House in December and won Senate approval last week. But one supporter of the bill, Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), warned Bush last week that if he vetoes the measure, he will, in effect, be "in favor of waterboarding."