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Parsing Weaver

Update Feb 21: John Weaver emails insisting that he strongly supports and admires McCain and bears him no animus. He adds that the Times already knew about his meeting with Iseman when its reporters approached him, and that he was not going to lie to the paper. He adds that he talks with the McCain campaign every day, and that the campaign knew about his contact with the Times immediately after it happened. Weaver emphasizes that his only concern about Iseman was that she allegedly had been bragging around town about her influence with McCain (which is also how I read his quotes) and nothing more. Meanwhile, at his press conference this morning McCain said that while he hasn't spoken to Weaver recently, he considers him a "friend." More, 10:10 a.m.: Tucker Carlson says on MSNBC that "a lot of people on the McCain campaign believe" that Weaver was a driving source behind the stories, beyond what he said on the record, and opines that Weaver "betrayed" McCain--though, again, Weaver denies this is a fair interpretation. And: A few minutes later McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt told MSNBC that "no one on the McCain campaign" thinks Weaver was a source for other allegations in the piece. Original item follows. 

An interesting footnote to the Times bombshell and the Post's lesser but interesting version is John Weaver's role in both stories. For years Weaver was among McCain's very closest advisors, second perhaps only to chief of staff Mark Salter. But during his campaign's near-death experience last summer, McCain summarily dumped Weaver after a reportedly angry confrontation. Weaver's departure was stunning, something akin to George Bush throwing Karl Rove overboard. Weaver denied that he had been fired by McCain, however, and publicly continued to support his former boss.

Now Weaver is an important source in both the Times and Post pieces. From the Times:

Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after “a discussion among the campaign leadership” about her.

“Our political messaging during that time period centered around taking on the special interests and placing the nation’s interests before either personal or special interest,” Mr. Weaver continued. “Ms. Iseman’s involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort.”

Mr. Weaver added that the brief conversation was only about “her conduct and what she allegedly had told people, which made its way back to us.” He declined to elaborate.

It's noteworthy that Weaver doesn't specifically support any of the worst charges against McCain--i.e. that McCain was having an affair, or that the senator did any legislative favors for Iseman. His aim may be to depict Iseman as having tried to cultivate a relationship with McCain that she could trade on professionally. Four sources did, after all, tell the Post that "Iseman spoke up regularly at meetings of telecom lobbyists in Washington, extolling her connections to McCain and his office." This could  be seen as a variant of the Monica-was-a-stalker line, I suppose (though I have no idea in this case whether or not it might be true).

Still, Weaver's on-the-record contributions do bolster both the juicyness and credibility of both stories. (Unless I missed it, no one else is on the record saying that Iseman was a headache for the McCain team.) Which makes me wonder whether this reflects a deeper fissure between the two men than they ever let on publicly.

Update: A commenter points out that Weaver recently helped to broker Mitt Romney's endorsement of McCain (something that in my monomania about the Democratic race I had not noticed). That would imply no lingering hard feelings. But it's notable to me from the story linked above that Weaver was contacted not by his old confidante, McCain, but by campaign strategist Charlie Black. Maybe I'm over-parsing that. In any event, my take is that, intentionally or not, Weaver's contributions boosted the stories rather than deflating them. At least one of my colleagues seems to agree.

More: Based on another indication that Weaver was not trying to make trouble for McCain I've revised the headline and may update later. 

Photo: Scott Goldman/Aurora Photo 

--Michael Crowley