WASHINGTON (CNN) - A helicopter carrying three U.S. senators was forced to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan Thursday, military and congressional sources tell CNN.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Once again, a major news organization makes a stunning allegation involving a prominent politician. This time it’s The New York Times versus John McCain.
The Republican presidential candidate went before the news media today to flatly deny the accusations – namely, that he may have had an improper relationship with a Washington telecommunications lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. And the New York Times issued a statement sticking by its story. Now, a lot of other major news organizations are following up.
The Washington Post wasted little time. In its front-page story today, reporters Jeffrey Birnbaum and Michael Shear confirmed an account in the Times of a meeting between former McCain senior adviser John Weaver and Iseman in Union Station in Washington where he “urged her to stay away from McCain.”
The Post reporters wrote: “Association with a lobbyist would undermine his image as an opponent of special interests, aides had concluded.” The Times said aides were concerned about what Iseman was saying publicly - whether she had given the impression of a special relationship with or special treatment from McCain.
Weaver was quoted on-the-record.
The Post then quoted unnamed sources as saying that the senator’s “small circle of advisers also confronted McCain directly…warning him that his continued ties to a lobbyist who had business before the powerful commerce committee he chaired threatened to derail his presidential ambitions” during his first White House bid in 2000.
McCain, at his news conference, denied that his senior staff had ever confronted him about his friendship with Iseman. He said they may have had discussions among themselves, but they never approached him.
That is but one of several discrepancies between what The Washington Post and The New York Times are reporting, on the one hand, and what McCain and his campaign are saying on the other.
Here’s the bottom line: I suspect this story, as we in the journalistic community say, has legs. News organizations are not going to let up – not yet, especially when a potential President of the United States is concerned.
–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Someone is lying. The New York Times dropped a bombshell on John McCain this morning with a front page story that could cost him the White House.
It's great reading… an improper relationship with a lobbyist, a woman named Vicki Iseman. His inner circle convinced they were having an affair. All happening while he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and she was representing clients who had business before McCain's committee. The two of them together at fundraisers, in his office, aboard private corporate jets. It got so bad his closest friends and advisers finally stepped in to save McCain from himself. This is all according to the New York Times.
Problem with the story is it's a little "skinny." Most of it is based on unnamed sources, which detracts from its credibility. On the other hand, the Times byline contains the names of four reporters who were not likely to go to their editors and say, "Look what we've got," if they didn't have it.
To read more and contribute to the Cafferty File discussion click here.
(CNN) – John McCain’s presidential campaign wasted no time taking advantage of an article in the New York Times which portrayed a relationship with a female lobbyist that troubled his advisers nearly a decade ago.
The article “is particularly disgusting – an un-sourced hit-and-run smear campaign designed to distract from the issues at stake in this election,” McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, wrote in a e-mail to supporters Thursday afternoon.
“We need your help to counteract the liberal establishment and fight back against the New York Times by making an immediate contribution today,” the e-mail also said in text that links to an online contribution form on the McCain campaign’s website.
Related: McCain denies close relationship with lobbyist
–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
(CNN) - Likely Republican nominee John McCain – who has tangled with potential Democratic rival Barack Obama over public financing of their general election campaigns – was told by the Federal Election Commission Thursday that his own bid to withdraw from the primary season version of that system may have hit some roadblocks.
The February 19 letter, which was released by the commission Thursday, comes several weeks after the Arizona senator’s campaign thought he had withdrawn from that system and the spending limits it imposes.
The FEC said in the letter to McCain’s campaign released Thursday that there were two issues preventing them from accepting that request.
The commission needs to vote on his application – but a battle between President Bush and Congress over potential FEC nominees means they have not had the quorum needed to decide on such a request so far this year.
They also say they want to learn more about a loan McCain received where potential payouts to come under the public financing system may have been used as collateral.
The McCain team has insisted that its existing request was never part of the terms of the loan, merely the possibility of future payouts – but in its letter, the FEC asks the campaign to provide more information about the terms of that agreement before it rules on whether or not McCain will be required to remain within the federal financing system.
If his withdrawal is denied, then McCain may have already spent more on his presidential bid than is allowed under FEC guidelines, and would not be able to spend more until he receives his party’s nomination this summer.
Related: FEC chair: McCain can't drop out of public financing system
(CNN) – Barack Obama’s campaign is using reports of a pro-Hillary Clinton group airing television ads on her behalf in its own fundraising appeals, sending supporters a plea for donations that points to actions by “Swift Boat-style groups and smear campaigns.”
“News broke yesterday that a few wealthy Clinton supporters are gearing up for a massive spending campaign to boost her chances in the big upcoming contests in Texas and Ohio on March 4th,” wrote David Plouffe in the Thursday e-mail message.
“The so-called ‘American Leadership Project’ will take unlimited contributions from individuals and is organized the same way as the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” he added.
Yesterday, the Obama campaign sent out a statement that used the same comparison – a characterization Jason Kinney, an organizer of the group, called “heavy-handed and hypocritical.”
ALP, which includes veterans of the Clinton administration and longtime supporters, is a “527” group, which means it is not bound by federal campaign finance laws as long as it does not directly advocate on behalf of a particular candidate.
Their new ad praises Clinton and seems to criticize Obama, though the ad released Wednesday does not mention the Illinois senator by name.
–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
(CNN) – Conservatives – who have often been wary of likely Republican nominee John McCain - came out in his defense Thursday following a New York Times report that suggested an improper relationship between the Arizona senator and a lobbyist.
“I’ve campaigned now on the same stage and platform as John McCain for 14 months and I only know him to be a man of integrity,” his GOP rival Mike Huckabee told reporters on the campaign trail in Texas. “Today he denied that any of that was true, I take him at his word, I’ve had no further comment other than that. I think for me to get into is completely immaterial – again, I only know what I know him to be, and that’s a good and decent and honorable man.”
In an e-mail to Politico, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said the biggest news was not the Times report itself: "The story is the Drive By media turning on its favorite maverick and trying to take him out," he wrote.
And the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody wrote Thursday the story might actually give a boost to McCain's bid to win over his party's conservative base.
"In [the] conservative world, if the New York Times does a 'hit job' on you then you wear that as a conservative badge of honor," he wrote Thursday morning. "This story could actually HELP John McCain."
–CNN’s Rebecca Sinderbrand and Alexander Marquardt
(CNN) - Former McCain political adviser John Weaver confirms to CNN that he did approach lobbyist Vicki Iseman about eight years ago, during McCain’s first presidential run, and told her she was threatening to undermine the heart of McCain’s campaign – that he is a reformer.
Weaver says he arranged the meeting with Iseman - first reported by the New York Times - out of concern that she was “telling people around town” she was getting access to, and had influence with, McCain that Weaver says she did not have.
But Weaver insists he never talked to or asked Iseman about any romantic relationship with McCain because “there was no reason to.”
“My concern wasn’t about anything John had done, it was about her comments it was about access she claimed to have had,” Weaver told CNN. “I had no reason to question her about anything that is implied in the New York Times story.”
Weaver was McCain’s campaign manager until this past summer, when he left as part of a staff shakeup. But Weaver tells CNN he still talks to campaign officials on a daily basis and he still “loves John McCain.”
“I don’t have an axe to grind,” Weaver said.
Weaver also says he gave the New York Times only one response, via e-mail back in December, to a series of questions they had asked him. He adds that he told the campaign he had communicated with the Times.
Related: McCain denies inappropriate relationship with lobbyist
–CNN's Dana Bash
(CNN) – A few weeks ago, 21-year-old Wisconsin superdelegate Jason Rae was taken out to breakfast by Chelsea Clinton in the runup to that state’s Democratic primary.
Two days after the vote, the college junior – who will be the youngest superdelegate at this year’s Democratic National Convention - is undecided no longer: he’s backing Barack Obama.
“The Democratic Party is fortunate to have two very talented individuals running for President this election,” said Rae in a statement released by the Obama campaign Thursday. “It is a difficult choice for anyone, but in the end, the choice for me has become clear. I am proudly supporting Senator Barack Obama.”
He cited Obama’s support from an overwhelming majority of young voters as the major reason for his decision.
The Democratic Party’s roughly 800 superdelegates – who can cast their votes for any candidate they choose, regardless of their state’s primary or caucus results – have been at the center of a fierce lobbying effort by the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton’s mother, Hillary Clinton.
Rae, a Marquette University history and political science major, talked political strategy and electability over a half-hour breakfast with the former First Daughter a little more than a week before his state’s February 19 primary.
He said then he had also been called by former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who tried to convince him to vote for Clinton, and by Sen. John Kerry, who urged him to back Obama. He also spoke with Barack Obama's wife, Michelle Obama.
Related video: Watch Jason Rae on Anderson Cooper 360
(CNN) – The Change To Win coalition – seven unions that represent between five and six million members nationwide – became the latest labor group to endorse Barack Obama Thursday.
"We think it's time to bring this nomination to a close," said the group's chair, SEIU official Anna Burger. The group's leadership decided to endorse Obama during a Thursday morning conference call.
Change to Win, which broke away from the AFL-CIO after the last election cycle, is led by the heads of its seven member unions and three other labor leaders, including Burger.
A majority of the group’s member unions have already backed Obama: the Teamsters – which revealed their support for Obama Wednesday – UNITE Here, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The decision does not need to be unanimous.
The three other unions, which have not endorsed Obama, are the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Laborers International Union, and United Farm Workers. United Farm Workers endorsed Hillary Clinton earlier this year.
Change to Win spokesman Greg Denier said there had been no negative votes on the endorsement, but that the three unions that had not yet backed Obama had abstained from the day’s vote. (He said the two unions that had not yet endorsed any candidate did not weigh in because they needed to complete an “internal process” before making any announcement on the presidential race.)
The New York senator has also received nods from several other unions, including the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
(updated Thursday afternoon to reflect official announcement)
–CNN’s Mark Preston and Rebecca Sinderbrand