Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, this morning denied any and all allegations of impropriety laid out in a New York Times story questioning whether the presumptive GOP presidential nominee had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist 31 years his junior.
Taking questions from the press until they ran out of them, McCain answered a clear definitive "no" when asked about details from the Times story. Did staffers meet with him to express concern about his relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman?
"No," McCain said.
No meeting ever occurred? "No."
Were staffers worried about their relationship?
"If they were they didn't communicate that with me," McCain said.
Did he have an inappropriate relationship with her? "No," he said, describing her as "a friend."
Standing with his wife, Cindy, McCain said he would not allow aftershocks of the Times story to distract him from his efforts to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
"I will focus my attention in this campaign on the big issues and on the challenges that face this country," McCain said.
Added Cindy, of her husband, "he's a man of great character and I'm very very disappointed in the New York Times."
Said McCain, "this whole story is based on anonymous sources."
The New York Times defended it's reporting in a statement:"On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself."
The newspaper's executive editor Bill Keller continued, defending the timing of the story by saying "our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready. "Ready" means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond, and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats."
Keller said, "This story was no exception. It was a long time in the works. It reached my desk late Tuesday afternoon. After a final edit and a routine check by our lawyers, we published it.
At the very least, however, the controversy threatens to tarnish McCain's image not only as a maverick who stands up to special interests, but as a "straight talker." In post titled "Lucky Girl" McCain's daughter Megan who has been chronicling life on the campaign trail, last night wrote, "Having grown up in politics, I know it's an industry that, for all intents and purposes, is known for being dirty and cruel."
She writes, "Politics is rough, but I absolutely adore my Dad and this campaign and have never, ever stopped believing in him. It's just that simple."
ABC News learned that McCain in 2002 was asked during a deposition about whether he remembered ever flying on a corporate jet with Alcade & Fay lobbyist Vicki Iseman, the woman in question, and he said he did not recall.
In retrospect that seems at least a curious claim. Indubitably other past comments by McCain about Iseman and her clients will receive greater scrutiny in the coming days.
McCain aides pushed back strongly against the story today.
"It was a friendship and a professional relationship, and nothing more than that," senior campaign aide Charlie Black told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts today.