Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exposed: A 'Willie Horton' Skeleton in Hillary Clinton's Closet

As a Young Attorney in Arkansas in 1975, the Former Hillary Diane Rodham Fiercely Defended a Suspected Rapist By Attacking the Credibility of His Alleged Victim -- a 12-Year-Old Girl

The former Hillary Diane Rodham and Bill Clinton celebrate their wedding in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1975. At the time, she was an attorney and he was recuperating from losing his first run for office the previous year; he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, but would be elected Arkansas attorney general in 1976. But while it was a happy time for the future first lady, it was also during this period that she aggressively defended a suspect in a rape case -- by attacking the credibility of the suspect's alleged victim -- a 12-year-old girl. (Photo courtesy Bridesdecide.com)

By Glenn Thrush

NEW YORK -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama spend a lot of time talking about their pasts.

Both lean heavily on tales of early, formative experiences - she running a law clinic in Arkansas, he as a community organizer in Chicago -- to show they understand the problems of average people.

Now the race for the Democratic nomination is coming down to its decisive contests, with Clinton locked in a do-or-die struggle to wrest that prize from an increasingly confident Obama, who appears poised to make history.

Voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Texas are still trying to take the measure of the two contenders -- and for both candidates, these vignettes are a critical part of forging bonds with fellow Democrats.

Obama, for instance, grew up in Hawaii and briefly lived in New York -- but returns time and again in speeches to the streets of Chicago's South Side, where he tried to help residents of the city's forgotten neighborhoods build a better life.

He offers that time to illustrate his real-life experience - a gritty counterpoint to Clinton's time in Washington, a way to combat charges that his stints in the Illinois state legislature and the U.S. Senate don't add up to the foundation to be president.

For Clinton, her time in Arkansas is a key component of the argument that her three decades of public service have prepared her to be president on Day One. As the first woman with a serious chance to lead the nation, it's a way for her to demonstrate how she fought to improve the lives of families and children.

Hillary Rodham Clinton often invokes her "35 years of experience making change" on the campaign trail, recounting her work in the 1970s on behalf of battered and neglected children and impoverished legal-aid clients.

A Hidden Episode in Former First Lady's 's Life Is Revealed After 32 Years

But there is a little-known episode Clinton doesn't mention in her standard campaign speech in which those two principles collided. In 1975, a 27-year-old Hillary Diane Rodham, acting as a court-appointed attorney, attacked the credibility of a 12-year-old girl in mounting an aggressive defense for an indigent client accused of rape in Arkansas -- using her child development background to help the defendant.

The case offers a glimpse into the way Clinton deals with crisis. Her approach, then and now, was to immerse herself in even unpleasant tasks with a will to win, an attitude captured in one of her favorite aphorisms: "Bloom where you're planted."

It also came at a crucial moment in her personal life, less than a year after she followed her then-fiance Bill Clinton down to Arkansas -- a time when she struggled to gain a foothold in a new state while maintaining her own professional identity.

"Bill was out front," said Tim Tarvin, one of Rodham's student assistants at the University of Arkansas Law School legal aid clinic. "But Hillary was running just as hard behind the scenes, battling just as hard for acceptance."

In May 1975, Washington County prosecutor Mahlon Gibson called Rodham, who had taken over the law clinic months earlier, to tell her she'd been appointed to represent a hard-drinking factory worker named Thomas Alfred Taylor, who had requested a female attorney.

In her 2003 autobiography Living History, Clinton writes that she initially balked at the assignment, but eventually secured a lenient plea deal for Taylor after a New York-based forensics expert she hired "cast doubt on the evidentiary value of semen and blood samples collected by the sheriff's office."

However, that account leaves out a significant aspect of her defense strategy -- attempting to impugn the credibility of the victim, according to a Newsday examination of court and investigative files and interviews with witnesses, law enforcement officials and the victim.

Rodham, records show, questioned the sixth grader's honesty and claimed she had made false accusations in the past. She implied that the girl often fantasized and sought out "older men" like Taylor, according to a July 1975 affidavit signed "Hillary D. Rodham" in compact cursive.

Echoing legal experts, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson says the senator would have been committing professional misconduct if she hadn't given Taylor the best defense possible.

"As she wrote in her book, Living History, Senator Clinton was appointed by the Circuit Court of Washington County, Arkansas to represent Mr. Taylor in this matter," he said. "As an attorney and an officer of the court, she had an ethical and legal obligation to defend him to the fullest extent of the law. To act otherwise would have constituted a breach of her professional responsibilities."

Rodham's Tactics Seen As an Aggressive Defense

Rodham, legal and child welfare experts say, did nothing unethical by attacking the child's credibility -- although they consider her defense of Taylor to be aggressive.

"She was vigorously advocating for her client. What she did was appropriate," said Andrew Schepard, director of the Hofstra University Law School's Center for Children, Families and the Law. "He was lucky to have her as a lawyer ... In terms of what's good for the little girl? It would have been hell on the victim. But that wasn't Hillary's problem."

The victim, now 46, told Newsday that she was raped by Taylor, denied that she wanted any relationship with him and blamed him for contributing to three decades of severe depression and other personal problems.

"It's not true, I never sought out older men -- I was raped," the woman said in an interview in the fall. Newsday is withholding her name as the victim of a sex crime.

With all the anguish she'd felt over the case in the years since, there was one thing she never realized -- that the lawyer for the man she reviles was none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I have to understand that she was representing Taylor," she said when interviewed in prison last fall. "I'm sure Hillary was just doing her job."

In late 1974, Rodham arrived in Fayetteville, Ark., after working for nearly a year on the legal staff of the House committee investigating Watergate. Her friends thought she was throwing away a promising big-city career, but she was intent on helping her then-fiance Bill Clinton get elected to Congress that year and was intrigued by her new job running the university's nascent legal-aid clinic.

She viewed Fayetteville, a pleasantly provincial college town dominated by Razorbacks football, as a layover, she told friends at the time. Bill would be elected to Congress, she reasoned, and she would move back to Washington to work with her mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, on children's causes.

Her life, as would so often happen through the years, diverged from the script. Before the clinic was up and running, Rodham was forced to wage a protracted battle with a local judge named Tom Butt to grant students permission to represent poor clients. Next, Bill Clinton lost his congressional race, effectively stranding her in Arkansas while he plotted a run for attorney general. Then came the agonizing Taylor case.

Hillary 'Was Just a Real Bulldog,' Ex-Prosecutor Says

Rodham immersed herself in the work, people involved in the case say, mounting a ferocious and exhaustively researched defense that made a strong impression on some in the male-dominated legal community in northern Arkansas.

"She was just a real bulldog - a real bulldog," said former Washington County prosecutor Mahlon Gibson, her opponent in the case.

Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, says Clinton's attitude toward her work in Arkansas foreshadowed the workaholic approach she's adopted today in her uphill battle against Barack Obama.

"I think Hillary prides herself on being someone who throws themselves 100 percent into an issue. Sometimes that's worked for her, sometimes it hasn't," said Carroll. "She showed when she was trying to implement health reform, she just put her nose to the grindstone and that didn't work out. She's doing it now. She just has faith that the hard work will pay off."

On May 21, 1975, Tom Taylor rose in court to demand that Washington County Judge Maupin Cummings allow him to fire his male court-appointed lawyer in favor of a female attorney. Taylor, who earned a meager wage at a paper bag factory and lived with relatives, had already spent 10 days in the county jail and was grasping for a way to avoid a 30 years-to-life term in the state penitentiary for rape.

Taylor, 41, figured a jury would be less hostile to a rape defendant represented by a woman, according to one of his friends. Cummings agreed to the request, scanned the list of available female attorneys (there were only a half dozen in the county at the time) and assigned Rodham, who had virtually no experience in criminal litigation.

"Hillary told me she didn't want to take that case, she made that very clear," recalls prosecutor Gibson, who phoned her with the judge's order.

"I didn't feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn't very well refuse the judge's request," the eventual first lady writes in Living History.

The case, she quickly learned, was hopelessly convoluted, hinging on the accounts of three people - Taylor, the girl and a 15-year-old boy - who all had reasons to withhold details.

Finding out precisely what happened in the pre-dawn hours of May 10, 1975, is difficult three decades later, particularly since Taylor died in 1992 of a heart ailment. But a basic outline can be reconstructed from interviews, court documents, witnesses' statements and the Washington County sheriff's original case file, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Sometime around midnight, the girl was sleeping over at a friend's house in Springdale when Taylor and his 20-year-old cousin walked in, asking if anyone wanted to take a drive. The sixth-grader, who says she was bored and wanted to buy a soda, jumped into Taylor's beat-up red 1963 Chevrolet pickup truck.

Soon after, they picked up the 15-year-old boy and drove to a liquor store, where Taylor bought a pint of Old Grand-Dad whiskey, which he mixed for the girl in a cup of Coca-Cola, according to the boy, now a 48-year-old Army veteran. (Newsday is withholding the boy's name because he was charged in the case as a juvenile offender.)

Youths Allegedly Drove to Weedy Ravine Where Girl Was Raped

After a few hours at a local bowling alley, the foursome crammed into Taylor's truck and drove to a weedy ravine off a busy two-lane highway connecting the sister cities of Fayetteville and Springdale, according the sheriff's department account.

Taylor and the older man went off for a walk, leaving the 12-year-old and the teenager alone in the cab. In a statement to police, the 15-year-old said he removed his pants and admitted to having sex, revealing the encounter only after being pressed by investigators.

Moments later, he said he left and Taylor approached the truck, climbing on top of the girl. The girl let out a scream, according to the police report, and he claims to have seen Taylor hitching up his pants.

The victim, the boy reported, turned to both of them and yelled, "You all planned this, didn't you?"

At 4:50 a.m., the girl walked into a local emergency room, badly shaken. The doctor's report noted that she had injuries consistent with rape. Sergeant Dale Gibson, the department's lead investigator in the case, interviewed her as she huddled with her mother. She offered a chilling detail - a threat from Taylor and his friends. "If I did say anything about it, they would catch me out later," she told the investigator.

Gibson, who is not related to prosecutor Mahlon Gibson, had no illusions about how hard the case would be to prove, because the girl seemed to have a romantic interest in the 15-year-old.

"She was kind of led into it," says Gibson, now retired and living in a Dallas suburb. "My sense was that she wanted to be part of something exciting with the young guy, but it turned out to be more than she bargained for ... Taylor, I think, had the idea he was going to make a man out of the young guy and jumped on when he had his chance."

He added, "Whatever she did, the bottom line for me was that this kid was 12 and Taylor was a grown man."

Rodham immersed herself in Taylor's defense as the law school's spring semester came to an end. "She worked a lot of nights on it," said Van Gearhart, her teaching assistant at the law clinic in 1975. "I remember her doing that because she wanted to show that she was willing to take court appointments, hoping that the bar would help us in getting established as a clinic."

John Barry Baker, the public defender Taylor fired in favor of Rodham, was struck by her intensity when he hitched a ride with her to the crime scene.

"Taylor was alleged to have raped this girl in a car right near a very busy highway - I told her it seems sort of improbable and she immediately agreed," said Baker, who remembered Rodham as "smart, capable and very focused."

Case Generated Reams and Reams of legal Papers As Rodham Sent 19 Subpoenas

During her first few months on the case, Rodham fired off no fewer than 19 subpoenas, affidavits and motions -- almost as much paper as was typical for a capital murder case that year, according to case files on microfilm.

She successfully petitioned to obtain Taylor's underwear for independent testing after the state medical examiner found traces of semen and blood. She also secured Taylor's release on $5,000 bond after getting his boss at the factory to vouch for him.

But the record shows that Rodham was also intent on questioning the girl's credibility. That line of defense crystallized in a July 28, 1975, affidavit requesting the girl undergo a psychiatric examination at the university's clinic.

"I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing," wrote Rodham, without referring to the source of that allegation. "I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body."

Dale Gibson, the investigator, doesn't recall seeing evidence that the girl had fabricated previous attacks. The assistant prosecutor who handled much of the case for Mahlon Gibson died several years ago.

The prosecutor's files on the case, which would have included such details, were destroyed more than decade ago when a flood swept through the county archives, Mahlon Gibson said. Those files also would have included the forensics evidence referenced in Living History.

The victim was visibly stunned when handed the affidavit by a reporter this fall. "It kind of shocks me - it's not true," she said. "I never said anybody attacked my body before, never in my life."

In December, when Clinton was campaigning in Iowa, the woman was being released from a state prison after serving a year for forging checks to pay for her methamphetamine addiction. She doesn't blame Taylor for all her problems, but says the incident continues to haunt her, compounding her bouts of depression and anxiety.

"I remember a lot of bad things about what he did to me in that pickup of his," said the woman, who says she attempted suicide a year after the incident. "I've had a lot of counseling and saw a psychiatrist for five to ten years ... It really affected me mentally. I was always kind of scared to be alone with a guy afterwards."

In the early 1970s, Rodham studied children with similar problems as a Yale Law School student working at the university's renowned child study center. As part of her course work, she helped train medical personnel to identify physical and behavioral clues of child abuse at the Yale-New Haven Hospital.

"She's clearly wired to be empathetic, concerned and can-do about children," said Penn Rhodeen, a New Haven Legal Aid lawyer who worked with Rodham on a foster-care case while she was at Yale. "It's personal to her."

Rodham's fluency on the topic is evident in her filings. "I have ... been told by an expert in child psychology that children in early adolescence tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experience and that adolescents with disorganized families, such as the complainant's, are even more prone to such behavior," she wrote in her July 28 affidavit. "She exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way."

Prosecution's Case Against Taylor Crumbles Under Pressure From Rodham

The judge granted Rodham's request for the exam, but the results, like the other prosecution files, were apparently lost in the flood.

By the fall of 1975, the prosecution's case was crumbling under pressure from Rodham and other factors relating to the evidence and the witnesses.

Taylor was a tight-lipped client, never wavering from his claim that he'd driven all the passengers home that night without stopping in the ravine, according to Dale Gibson. (Taylor was less guarded around his 15-year-old companion, who recalls the older man whispering "Let's keep our stories straight" when the two met in county jail.)

Most damaging to the case, the retired detective says, was the girl's "infatuation" with the teenage boy, which she refused to admit, leading to serious inconsistencies in her statements about the incident.

The victim says it was her mother, who had recently been abandoned by her husband, who pushed for a quick plea deal to avoid the humiliation of having her daughter testify in open court. The mother, who died several years ago, was so eager to end the ordeal she coached her daughter's statements and interrupted interviews with police, Dale Gibson recalls.

"We both wanted it to be over with," the victim told Newsday. "They kept asking me the same questions over and over. I was crying all the time."

On November 4 that year, Mahlon Gibson agreed to reduce the charges from first-degree rape to unlawful fondling of a minor under the age of 14, which carried a five-year sentence. During the plea hearing, Cummings asked Rodham to leave the room while sexually explicit details of the case were discussed with the girl. "I can't talk about any of these things in front of a lady," he told her, according to the senator's autobiography.

She refused and Cummings interviewed the girl in court. A few minutes later, he reduced Taylor's five-year sentence to four years probation and a year in county jail - with two months taken off for time he had already served.

Taylor was out of jail by the summer of 1976 and remained on probation until 1980. There's no record that he was ever incarcerated or charged with a serious crime again in Arkansas or Missouri, where he relocated. Rodham was paid a $250 retainer for her services, minus 10 percent for court costs, records show. In her book, Hillary Clinton says the case spurred her to create the first rape hotline in Arkansas.

In 2005, while working in a laundry, the victim stole several hundred dollars worth of checks from her boss to buy drugs. She is now living in a halfway house and looking for work.

Despite these problems, she bears Hillary Rodham Clinton no ill will and was eager to read Living History -- at least pages 72 and 73, which contain her case.

# # #

Volume III, Number 15
Special Report Copyright 2008, Newsday Inc.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, February 25, 2008

On Torture and on Capitol Hill Ethics, McCain Is Senator 'John McHypocrite'

While the Mainstream Media Focus on Arizona Senator's Alleged Relationship With a Lobbyist, His Vote Against -- and Call on President Bush to Veto -- an Anti-Waterboarding Bill Is a Dramatic About-Face for a Man Who Says He Abhors Torture

Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain addresses ...

Republican presidential candidate John McCain addresses members of the media as his wife Cindy listens during a news confrerence Thursday in which he denied assertions published the previous day by The New York Times that McCain once had a close relationship with a female lobbyist whose clients had business before his Senate committee. But while the media focused on the alleged relationship, little was reported about his vote against a bill to ban waterboarding as a form of torture -- and his call on President Bush to veto it. (Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters)

By Skeeter Sanders

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.

More recently, McCain, who suffered torture as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, angered the Bush administration and conservatives within his own party by being an outspoken opponent of torture against terrorist suspects, eventually forcing the White House in 2005 to accept an amendment McCain wrote to the defense appropriations bill that prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

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 knew I would be criticized for it," McCain told reporters Wednesday in Ohio. "I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not" torture.

"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."

But McCain said he'd rather see Bush veto the measure rather than sign it and then issue a "signing statement" outlining his objections to it. Such statements -- which Bush has used more than 700 times since he took office, far more than any of his predecessors -- have become highly controversial and of questionable constitutionality.

McCain said he would never issue a critical signing statement. "If I disagree with a law that's passed, I'll veto it," he said. "I think if you disagree with a law, you have a constitutional right to veto that, authority to veto that."

In this blogger's opinion, McCain's opposition to the anti-waterboarding bill makes no sense -- and his call on Bush to veto the measure is the height of hypocrisy for a man who was tortured for five years while a prisoner of war in Vietnam and who has made opposition to torturing prisoners of war a personal crusade.

Suddenly, a New Ethics Scandal for 'Mr. Straight Talk'

But the Arizona senator also faces accusations of being a hypocrite on lobbyists' influence on members of Congress. While this blogger has doubts about whether McCain's relationship with Iseman was of a romantic nature -- The Washington Post's own story on the scandal declined to say if the relationship was romantic -- it nonetheless does raise new ethical questions.

Soon after the Times article about his relationship with Iseman appeared, McCain advisers challenged its accuracy and questioned the newspaper's motivation.

"He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election," campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in a statement.

The campaign also said that "John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity" and that "there is nothing in [the Times] story to suggest that John McCain ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

Some McCain advisers were convinced in 2000 that his relationship with Iseman, a partner at the Washington-based lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay, had become romantic, the Times reported. The newspaper also said that Weaver wanted the senator to stay away from the lobbyist, who represented telecommunications companies with business before the Senate Commerce Committee that McCain led.

Iseman acknowledged meeting Weaver but denied a romantic relationship -- as did McCain -- and insisted she did not receive any special treatment from the senator's office, the Times reported.

One of McCain's senior advisers, Charlie Black, told CNN that the campaign first learned in October that the newspaper was working on a story about McCain's relationship with Iseman. By Thanksgiving, he said, there were "rumors all over town" that the Times was interviewing people.

Black said McCain's campaign and Senate staff spent "countless hours" providing information and documentation to the paper. He said that the information provided to the paper disputes suggestions McCain tried to use his influence to help Iseman's clients.

Conservative Broadcaster Paxson Contradicts McCain on Lobbying

In a related development, conservative broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson on Friday contradicted statements from the McCain campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona senator wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson, an evangelical Christian who founded the family-oriented PAX Television Network in the mid-1980s (now ION Television), also recalled that his lobbyist -- Iseman -- likely attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson told the Post. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings."

The McCain campaign said Thursday that the senator had not met with Paxson or Iseman on the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding," the campaign said in a statement.

But Paxson insisted to the Post on Friday that he remembered , "going there to meet with him." He recalled that he told McCain: "You're head of the Commerce Committee. The FCC is not doing its job. I would love for you to write a letter."

Democrats Seek FEC Probe of McCain Campaign Loan

Meanwhile, Democratic national chairman Howard Dean called Sunday for campaign finance regulators to investigate whether McCain would violate money-in-politics laws by withdrawing from the primary election's public finance system.

McCain, who had been entitled to $5.8 million in federal funds for the primary, has decided to bypass the system so he can avoid spending limits between now and the GOP's national convention next September in Minneapolis.

Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason notified McCain last week that he can only withdraw from public financing if he answers questions about a campaign loan and obtains approval from four members of the six-member commission. Such approval is doubtful in the short term because the commission has four vacancies and cannot convene a quorum.

"John McCain poses as a reformer but seems to think reforms apply to everyone but him," Dean said Sunday in a conference call with reporters. He said the Democratic National Committee will formally seek an FEC investigation today (Monday).

Part of the issue centers on a loan McCain obtained late last year. The loan was not directly secured by McCain's potential access to public funds. But his agreement with the bank required him to reapply for public funds if he lost early primary contests and to use that money as collateral.

McCain's lawyer, former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter, has said McCain did not encumber any money that he would have received from the federal treasury.

McCain and Potter have said he was entitled to withdraw without FEC approval and have cited as examples Dean and Democrat Dick Gephardt, both of whom withdrew from public financing during the 2004 presidential primary.

"Howard Dean's hypocrisy is breathtaking, given that in 2003 he withdrew from the matching funds system in exactly the same way John McCain is doing today," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Sunday.

DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said Dean, unlike McCain, took out no loan that raised questions about his use of potential public funds.

If McCain were prohibited from withdrawing from public financing, he would be severely limited in his campaign spending for the next six months. Under campaign finance rules, he would be allowed to spend only $54 million; as of the end of January, his campaign had already spent nearly $50 million.

Unwanted Memories of the 'Keating Five' Scandal

Aside from its timing -- coming jsut as McCain is on the threshold of clinching the GOP presidential nimination -- the scandal is sure to bring back memories of McCain being dragged into the Keating Five scandal of the 1980s.

In the context of the savings and loan crisis of that decade, Charles Keating Jr.'s Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, a subsidiary of his American Continental Corporation, was insolvent as a result of some bad loans. In order to regain solvency, Lincoln sold investment in a real estate venture as an FDIC-insured savings account. This caught the eye of federal regulators who were looking to shut it down.

It was alleged that Keating contacted five senators to whom he made contributions. McCain was one of those senators and he met at least twice in 1987 with Ed Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, seeking to prevent the government's seizure of Lincoln.

Between 1982 and 1987, McCain received approximately $112,000 in political contributions from Keating and his associates. In addition, McCain's wife, Cindy, and her father, James Willis Hensley, a wealthy Anheuser-Busch distributor, had invested $359,100 in a Keating shopping center in April 1986, a year before McCain met with the regulators.

McCain, his family and baby-sitter made at least nine trips at Keating's expense, sometimes aboard the American Continental jet. After learning Keating was in trouble over Lincoln, McCain paid for the air trips totaling $13,433.

Eventually the real estate venture failed, leaving many broke. Federal regulators ultimately filed a $1.1 billion civil racketeering and fraud suit against Keating, accusing him of siphoning Lincoln's deposits to his family and into political campaigns. The five senators came under investigation for attempting to influence the regulators.

In the end, none of the senators was convicted of any crime, although McCain was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for exercising "poor judgment" in intervening with the federal regulators on Keating's behalf.

On his Keating Five experience, McCain said: "The appearance of it was wrong. It's a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do."

The question that this blogger has, however, is whether McCain can survive this newest scandal. No matter how hard his campaign tries to play it down, it's not going to go away any time soon.

# # #

Volume III, Number 14
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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