Robert Bennett Defends McCain, Airs Suspicions

The New York Times is fueling outrage, astonishment, and suspicion tonight with their story on John McCain. Titled, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk," it paints a campaign concerned with ethical lapses, disingenuousness, and - in the blockbuster reveal of the article - the intimation of a romantic affair between McCain and lobbyist named Vicki Iseman.

McCain's campaign has already vowed to "go to war" with the paper:

"It's not every night I stay up to read the National Enquirer," said Charlie Black, who was with other top McCain aides at the senator's Arlington, Va., headquarters to mount the counter-attack.

Black noted he had taken heat from some of his "conservative friends' after McCain won the paper's endorsement in January. "We're going to go to war with them now," Black said. "We'll see if that hurts or helps."

A spirited defense of McCain was already being mounted on television Thursday by Robert Bennett, who has, according to the Drudge Report, been on this case for McCain since December 2007, when the high-profile lawyer (and Democrat brother to Republican Bill) was brought on to pressure the Times to kill the story:

Just weeks away from a possible surprise victory in the primaries, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz has been waging a ferocious behind the scenes battle with the NEW YORK TIMES, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned, and has hired DC power lawyer Bob Bennett to mount a bold defense against charges of giving special treatment to a lobbyist!

McCain has personally pleaded with NY TIMES editor Bill Keller not to publish the high-impact report involving key telecom legislation before the Senate Commerce Committee, newsroom insiders tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

Bennett still insisted overnight that the story was nothing more than a "smear campaign," but important questions remain, chief among them being why the Times waited until now to publish the story. Was pressure out of the McCain camp sufficient to kill the story? Is there any truth to the reports surfacing tonight that the Times only ran the item tonight because The New Republic was planning on hitting them for not running it?

Additionally, one wonders: how will the Times counter the suspicion that agenda-driven or ideological motives are at work? On this regard, Bennett fueled a bit of speculation on the Hannity and Colmes Show tonight when he hinted that it was appropriate to have dark suspicions. (Video below)

COLMES: Were you at all involved in talks with the New York Times and it's also reported by the Washington Post that the Drudge Report is going to run this. Did you have any conversation with Drudge or the Times to try to get them to back off?

BENNETT: I had no conversations with the Drudge people. I did have several conversations and one meeting with the New York Times reporters and repeatedly provided them answers to their questions. And I was satisfied that there was nothing here. But no, I worked very hard at it. I am highly suspicious as to why and how their working on a story was leaked to Drudge. I have my suspicions, but I will be fairer to the New York Times than the New York Times is to John McCain.

COLMES: How do you think it was leaked?

BENNETT: I'm not going to engage in what the New York Times did. I don't have proof, so I'm not going to say it.

COLMES: Was this an effort on the part of the Times to -- it seems what Carl Cameron at the top of the show this was an attempt by the Times to ward off a giving out first by the New Republic and they wanted to beat them to their own story.

BENNETT: I just don't know about that so I really can't comment on that.

Cloak and dagger stuff, and sure to draw fire from the right - who'll likely paint this incident as an attempt to wreck McCain's chances. Of course, if that's the Times' true intention, they are realizing them rather clumsily: at this stage in the presidential contest, we're still months away from election day. As far as kneecappings go, it's a pretty poorly timed one.

In fact, if anyone has a right to be deeply aggrieved over the matter, it might be Mitt Romney. Ex-Romney backer Bay Buchanan said Thursday on CNN, "McCain's lawyers went into the New York Times and said do not touch this story. Do not move on this story. And there's no question this was beneficial to McCain to hold the story. no question. His nomination was very much threatened by this story if it broke too early. So what they did was hurt the Republican Party by not allowing this to be aired properly at the time they received this information."