STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Senator John McCain has responded to news stories about his past, and his short answer to reporters' questions is no. The report in the New York Times. It involved a female lobbyist who allegedly was very close to the senator around the time of his run for president in 2000. At a news conference today, a reporter asked McCain if his staff warned him not to see the lobbyist.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): No.
INSKEEP: The reporter asked if that means no meeting ever occurred.
Sen. McCAIN: No.
INSKEEP: Which led to the question of whether McCain's staff was ever concerned about a romantic relationship.
Sen. McCAIN: If they were, they didn't communicate that to me.
INSKEEP: And then the question did you ever have a romantic relationship?
Sen. McCAIN: No.
INSKEEP: Senator John McCain was speaking in Ohio, where he's campaigning for president. NPR's Don Gonyea was at the news conference, and he's on the line. Don, how seriously is McCain's campaign taking these allegations?
DON GONYEA: Oh, they're taking it very seriously. This story was first posted at the NewYorkTimes.com last night, what, about 9:00 o'clock Eastern time or thereabouts. And within 12 hours, he is in Toledo, where he's campaigning for the Ohio primary, which is coming up in less than two weeks. And he's in a ballroom and he has assembled his traveling press corps and the local press show up, and we got about an hour's notice. And there he was, standing with his wife by his side and three American flags behind him, denying the allegations in the story, saying, point blank, it's not true, and stressing that he's disappointed in the article. So they felt the need to get him out there right away this morning addressing this.
INSKEEP: Why is an allegation that a senator had relations with a lobbyist make - why is that especially severe for someone like John McCain?
GONYEA: Well, we look at the core of John McCain's message as a candidate for president - really, of his political life for the last, you know, decade, going back to before his first run for president in 2000. It's that the culture of Washington has to change, the influence of money on politics has to be addressed. And he runs as the reformer, as someone who can change the system. And this kind of a story, if it does gain some credibility, if it does seem to be, you know, reasonable and possibly true, this kind of relationship - and not so much the personal relationship, but the fact that it could have led him to make decisions that would benefit her interests, the folks she was lobbying for does kind of contradict the core of what a John McCain candidacy is all about. That's why they feel the need to get out there and address it.
INSKEEP: You know, it's an interesting story when you start reading it in the New York Times. It begins talking about this alleged relationship with a lobbyist. That goes on - by my count here - for only about six paragraphs, and then the story wanders off and reviews many other incidents in McCain's long Senate career. It finally comes back and says that these former associates said that they confronted McCain about these allegations, something that he's denied. How much did McCain communicate with the New York Times as they were pulling this story together?
GONYEA: He says he knew they've been working on it. He says he has answered many questions and the campaign has answered many questions that they submitted over the month that this story has been in the works. And he says he had one meeting with a top official - editorial official at the New York Times - not to try to get them to kill the story. He says he knows the New York Times too well to think that it would have responded the way he wanted to that. But he said to try to bring some closure to it. They, of course, you know, knew it was going to run last night. But he says they've been working with the Times, but again, he says he's very disappointed with the Times and the kind of journalism he says this story represents…
GONYEA: …citing so many anonymous sources.
INSKEEP: Okay. NPR's Don Gonyea in Toledo, Ohio. Don, thanks very much, and we'll bring you more as we learn more on this story.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.