McCain Denies Report Claiming Lobbyist Link

New York Times says "story speaks for itself."

ByABC News
February 21, 2008, 2:00 PM

Feb. 21, 2008 — -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 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.

The article, citing two unnamed former associates, claimed that senior associates of McCain's became "convinced the relationship had become romantic" between McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman, and "intervened to protect the candidate from himself, instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him."

He may have a reputation for being hot-headed, but this morning in Toledo, Ohio, a serene McCain took questions from reporters until they ran out of them, answering a clear, definitive "no" when asked about details from the Times story.

Did staffers meet with him to express concern about his relationship with 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," McCain said, describing her as "a friend."

And his wife, Cindy, stood by her man.

"He's a man of great character, and I'm very very disappointed in The New York Times," she said.

Said her husband "This whole story is based on anonymous sources."

In a statement released today, The New York Times defended the report: "On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself."

The newspaper's Executive Editor Bill Keller also addressed the story's timing, a detail advisers to the fallen campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lamented this morning suggesting an early publication might have kept their candidate in the Republican race.

Keller said, "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."

At the very least, the controversy threatens to tarnish McCain's image not only as a maverick who stands up to special interests but as a "straight talker."

His daughter Megan has been chronicling life on the campaign trail blogging last night in a post titled "Lucky Girl:" "Politics is rough but I absolutely adore my Dad and this campaign and have never, ever stopped believing in him."