The Russians and John McCain
May 10, 2022 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Political strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked on campaigns for GW Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and most notably John McCain, put a letter on Substack Sunday in which he admits to lying for McCain to cover up an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman and to help kill a story about how McCain spent his 70th birthday on a Russian yacht.

Schmidt’s prime targets here are convicted felon and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with his business partner Rick Davis, who he says wanted to cash in while “advancing the strategic interests of Vladimir Putin, Oleg Deripaska and their puppet Victor Yanukovych.”

The letter is apparently the culmination of a long-running feud with “bully” Megan McCain, but he’s also continuing to settle scores with Sarah Palin, whose selection as VP candidate “should never have happened.”
posted by CheeseDigestsAll (62 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
letthemfight.gif
posted by NoMich at 10:41 AM on May 10 [32 favorites]


Surely this?
posted by wittgenstein at 10:42 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]


Turns out the party of deception and hatred does deceptive hateful things. May they all drag each other endlessly.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:44 AM on May 10 [15 favorites]


I feel like some important context here is that Steve Schmidt is kind of having a public meltdown. That isn’t to say that his confirmations are wrong, but that he seems to be in a very funky state of mind at the moment. For Axios, Mike Allen has a short recap and followup with Schmidt.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:48 AM on May 10 [12 favorites]


Schmidt, who also formally apologized to the journalists, said that at the time, when he was 36, “I did not understand the difference between integrity and loyalty.”

Oh, you were such a child at 36, how could you have possibly known not to be a fucking liar for profit and to the detriment of the entire nation you loudly profess as a Republican to love?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:08 AM on May 10 [95 favorites]


when the body stares with horror to realize a limb is gangrenous I cannot think of any response but to recoil.. with hope the person does what it needs to do after the initial shock and repulsion

I suppose there's some satisfaction to letting the maggots have their meal? the analogy breaks down, maggots have a place in the world

my point is, there is nothing to celebrate here. it just keeps getting worse, the Bad People and criminals will not fight it out and leave any better world for it, they're taking us all down
posted by elkevelvet at 11:09 AM on May 10 [12 favorites]


There's also a helpful overview in the May 9 edition of Letters from an American by historian Heather Cox Richardson.
By 2003, [Davis and Manafort] were representing pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych; in July 2004, U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow for exposing Russian government corruption; and in June 2005, Manafort proposed that he would work for Putin’s government in former Soviet republics, Europe, and the United States by influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage.

From 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2016, Manafort went on to lead Donald Trump’s campaign, and the ties between him, the campaign, and Russia are well known. Less well known is that in 2008, Manafort’s partner Rick Davis ran Republican candidate John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Some additional historical perspective from MetaFilter: I'm actually really curious about how long Russians have been funnelling money to US politicians (primarily Republicans, but probably not entirely). The Russian funding of the NRA is one of many pieces.

Schmidt reminds us that Russian funding of US politicians - and, conversely, Republican operatives working on behalf of criminal oligarchs - has been going on for at least 20 years.

And given Putin's history and tactics, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Russia's relationship with a number of US elected officials was a combination of illegal campaign finance on one hand and extortion threats on the other.

Shouldn't one of those Pulitzer-winning news organizations be putting together the definitive history of Russia buying out US politicians?
posted by kristi at 11:09 AM on May 10 [68 favorites]


Fellow Substacker Heather Cox Richardson wrote about this letter today.

Tired: Big-time crook Donald Trump infiltrated the Republican party only to welcome in a bunch of white-collar criminals.

Wired: The white-collar criminals who had already infiltrated the Republican party (or at least the campaign/fundraising side) welcomed in small-time Donald Trump for his first seat at the grown-ups' table.
posted by box at 11:10 AM on May 10 [72 favorites]


I have trouble getting worked up about Schmidt's role with the affair, which seems to be the main focus. I've always assumed everyone--politicians and non-politicians--lie about affairs and relationships when they want. I mean, this is empirically true but also it seems almost a polite response to a prying question*. I'd rather we just didn't lionize some supposed personal morality in public figures in the first place; the story of McCain's early life and end of his first marriage was plenty to demonstrate he was closer to sleazy than saintly. This from the Heather Cox Richardson piece:
More, though, Schmidt’s point was to warn Americans that the mythmaking that turns ordinary people into political heroes makes us unwilling to face reality about their behavior and, crucially, makes the media unwilling to tell us the truth about it.
I get the instinct to yell about hypocrisy but it's really hard to pull off outrage about that without legitimizing the moralizing the media (and of course grifters) like to do in the first place.

And for sure, there are often details that make things matter more, like sexual harassment, sleeping with people on your payroll, and so on. Sleeping with a lobbyist gets up close to that.

Also, today I realized that Stuart Stevens and Steve Schmidt are different embittered former Republican consultants.

*I remember way back, trying to make this point to someone who was deeply offended by Bill Clinton's lie--specifically the lie, more than the behavior. I started to blurt out "How can you say that's some huge character flaw when your good friend A______ lies about sleeping with . . . " before realizing that A______ probably hadn't told her friend about that particular ongoing fling. I buttoned my lip just in time.
posted by mark k at 11:22 AM on May 10 [10 favorites]


I am genuinely mystified by the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong or to refrain from disgusting behavior when they're merely in their 30s. I guess Republicans don't develop a conscience or workable moral framework until...when, their 40s? Maybe their 50s? (Yes, I know the real answer is "never.")
posted by holborne at 11:23 AM on May 10 [29 favorites]


I thought I saw a tweet from him acknowledging that the statute of limitations has expired for what he did, so he is now free to confess.

I would have had more respect for him if he had confessed earlier when he was in a position to suffer more than reputational damage among his colleagues and clients. Nevertheless, I thank him for at least doing it for free rather than withholding for a book deal.
posted by zaixfeep at 11:25 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


Lying to the press is generally not a crime. Unless I'm missing something huge, he was never going to suffer other than "reputational damage" (and of course, simply not lying would have been the logical approach if he had more integrity back then.)
posted by mark k at 11:31 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


All done. No more. I realize many people think the disclosure of this information is very similar to @MarkTEsper disclosing Trumps Mexico War plan. Oh it’s not. I didn’t do a book. I just took the abuse and kept quiet for 14 years. Statute of limitations is up. Feeling great.
--- Steve Schmidt on Twitter (emphasis mine)

Perhaps he was speaking figuratively.
posted by zaixfeep at 11:42 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


Lots of people will be embarrassed for ten minutes and then something else salacious will happen and everyone will just move on.

So it goes.

Props for owning up, I guess. You want a cookie, Schmidt? It’s FUCK YOU flavored with BURN IN FUCKING HELL icing.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 11:43 AM on May 10 [18 favorites]


Ha ha I'm glad this made it here! I'll be back later.
posted by rhizome at 11:46 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


The press needs to be a lot more skeptical and a lot less of an unquestioning PR department concerned mostly with likes and page views.
posted by tommasz at 12:00 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]


My take is that the only interesting thing here is that he acknowledged the deep ties between Russia and the GOP. Of course this isn’t news and won’t be now either because the press is so deeply commuted to the “both sides” and the “GOP daddy” narratives that they can never accept that the GOP is now a bought and paid-for Russian op.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:12 PM on May 10 [17 favorites]


..the Bad People and criminals will not fight it out and leave any better world for it...

Yes, that's a given.
What's also certain is that other people of power and the rest of us with no power will not see that the law is applied equally to the rich and the powerful.
Steal $27.38 from a 7/11, go to jail.
Steal several million from government programs or private pension plans, get a sham trial and waltz away.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:14 PM on May 10 [11 favorites]


Oh, my! Further confirmation that McCain was a horrible fucking person who is lucky that hell doesn't actually exist, a person whose passing we can all take comfort in, now that he can no longer make the world a worse place. So unsurprising.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 12:23 PM on May 10 [7 favorites]


"I did not understand the difference between integrity and loyalty" pretty succinctly summarizes John McCain and the rest of the "moderate" Republicans over the last 20+ years.
posted by biogeo at 12:29 PM on May 10 [22 favorites]


Remember: John McCain Was A Maverick
posted by nostrada at 12:29 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I'm going to address these revelations John McCain style.

I'm going to puff myself up and grandstand about taking the high road, our responsibilities as Americans, how I am driven by fervently-held moral beliefs and I will not stand for such base impropriety...

...and then once I get points for having said that, I'm gonna just dip and let people do whatever the fuck they want anyway.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:31 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]


tired of "loyalty" as unexamined virtue. recall some news-adjacent blurb after inauguration to the effect of "T[nope]'s niece says his children will be loyal as long as it is in their interest." grumble.
posted by 20 year lurk at 12:35 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


"Wired: The white-collar criminals who had already infiltrated the Republican party (or at least the campaign/fundraising side) welcomed in small-time Donald Trump for his first seat at the grown-ups' table."

Could somebody remind me what the time period was that the Republican party was not infiltrated by white-collar criminals?
posted by PresidentOfDinosaurs at 12:39 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]


Well I enjoyed reading this today... for a certain value of "enjoyed." Considering the long argument I just had with my tankie dad about Sarah Palin being a Russian asset and Russian interference in US elections in general, which he still doesn't and probably never will acknowledge. I always enjoy seeing hard evidence and actual confirmation of the things I believe, even if "everyone" already knows they are true.
posted by subdee at 12:40 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]


In a podcast on December 14, 2020, Schmidt announced that he planned to register as a member of the Democratic Party. Utah voter registration data in 2021 showed that Schmidt was registered as a member of the far-right American Independent Party. (Wikipedia)

(AIP was George Wallace's party.)

I am reminded of the old adage, "Even a political operative the Devil can speak the truth, if it's in his interest to do so." Like all political operatives and consultants, everything he does, even altruism on behalf of whomever is paying him, is pure self-interest.
posted by zaixfeep at 12:53 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]


This is great news! For John McCain's desiccated corpse!
posted by kirkaracha at 12:55 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


It does make me wonder how much of Romney's famous Russia quote was actually about stuff he knew his Republican colleagues were up to.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:58 PM on May 10 [18 favorites]


I am genuinely mystified by the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong or to refrain from disgusting behavior when they're merely in their 30s.

The term of art is "youthful indiscretions," as coined by then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) while he was impeaching Bill Clinton for lying about an affair while lying to cover up his own affairs, specifically one he had in the 1960s. When he was in his "youthful" 40s.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:01 PM on May 10 [9 favorites]


I am genuinely mystified by the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong or to refrain from disgusting behavior when they're merely in their 30s.

Yes, but can't we agree that, as one politician said, "just digging stuff up from my early 20s to smear me is pathetic." Now that Rep. Cawthorn is 26, I'm sure he's matured.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:05 PM on May 10 [14 favorites]


All done. No more. I realize many people think the disclosure of this information is very similar to @MarkTEsper disclosing Trumps Mexico War plan. Oh it’s not. I didn’t do a book. I just took the abuse and kept quiet for 14 years. Statute of limitations is up. Feeling great.
--- Steve Schmidt on Twitter


Oh cool, awesome, so glad to hear you're feeling great, Steve

I bet that dirty money still spends, huh
posted by penduluum at 1:14 PM on May 10


I'm hardly surprised by the latest Republican depredation lately, but at the same time, you almost certainly have very few dots to connect between any given Russian oligarch and the guys who showed the NVA/VC how to run their prisons, which is pretty wild for someone with McCain's history who also had to be aware of those connections.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:18 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I am genuinely mystified by the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong or to refrain from disgusting behavior when they're merely in their 30s.

It's not all that complicated. Integrity is meaningless and words are nothing but playthings and distractions to those who seek power for power's sake.
posted by mhoye at 1:43 PM on May 10 [16 favorites]


I love that such a bumbling failure of a man—McCain—is constantly mythologized as some legendary political figure. You really can be whatever you want in this country if you have the money and the connections!
posted by gucci mane at 2:04 PM on May 10 [13 favorites]


Welp, I certainly did enjoy his slamming of Meghan.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:12 PM on May 10 [10 favorites]


I wish more lefties would internalize that hypocrisy is not a meaningful accusation to the right. Of course they're being hypocrites. That you are bound by rules, standards, logic, human decency, some sort of fundamental moral consistency, and they are not? That's their conception of what power is, and why they seek it. So they can exercise power, regardless.

When you hear "the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong", what you should be hearing is "right and wrong mean nothing to me, only power". It's the virtue-signalling of the totalitarian.
posted by mhoye at 2:17 PM on May 10 [79 favorites]


I am genuinely mystified by the continued Republican insistence that they can't be expected to know right from wrong or to refrain from disgusting behavior when they're merely in their 30s.

"What? That black kid who is on trial is fifteen? TRY HIM AS AN ADULT."
posted by nushustu at 2:20 PM on May 10 [12 favorites]


Welp, I certainly did enjoy his slamming of Meghan.

I wonder how much this is being allowed because she, as repugnant is she is, had the gall to stand up to Trump.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:22 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


tired of "loyalty" as unexamined virtue

I read an interesting article a while back that was talking about Liz Cheney and how she was showering loyalty to ideals (i.e., the Constitution) versus how the Trump wing was showing loyalty to a person (not unlike a Mafia boss).

The rewards for the latter can be immediate: trust, money, power, while the former is an abstraction and may not be rewarded at all, except by your own internal sense of honor.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:23 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I wish more lefties would internalize that hypocrisy is not a meaningful accusation to the right.

Believe me, I have internalized that very well, and have said so here and elsewhere many times. Hence the last line of the post you’re quoting.
posted by holborne at 2:27 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


On one hand, McCain helped Russia destabilize Europe, which helped lead up to the hot war on Ukraine currently underway. On the other hand, Trump took money, logistical support, and help in electoral fraud from Russia to get elected, and yet McCain thumbed-down Trump's attempt to gut the ACA, which helped some Americans keep their healthcare (such as it is) and probably saved some lives. It's complicated.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:45 PM on May 10 [9 favorites]


Vultures are more noble than these people, and more useful. They don't make the dead.
posted by Oyéah at 3:44 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I mean, Senators from Louisiana go to Washington to get jobs as Russian lobbyists; it's a retirement plan.

I would file this under 'the US Senate.'
posted by eustatic at 4:11 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I wish more lefties would internalize that hypocrisy is not a meaningful accusation to the right.

Yes, but Vitter went down in the face of his prostitution scandals not on the prostitution per se, but on the fact that he was philandering during floor votes. These issues have been messaged successfully before, and that is why Louisiana has had a democratic governor.
posted by eustatic at 4:15 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]


Any guesses whether some of this is coming out because the Russians are no longer able to "support" their assets?

Australia is going to vote in federal elections on 21 May, and it looks like it will be one of the most transparent recent elections, which I think is partly because the Russians are not able/too pre-occupied to interfere. China seems to making some effort at meddling, but the government just warned them off, telling them that the Australian authorities are being provided information from within the Chinese regime, ie. "keep your fingers in your own pie, or we may put our fingers in yours."

Putin and his cabal play a long game, but the sanctions must be limiting how well they can execute their paymaster function, so some "bought" supporters might not be as "bought" as they were a year ago.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:30 PM on May 10 [17 favorites]


I wonder how much this is being allowed because she, as repugnant is she is, had the gall to stand up to Trump.

I dunno, but Steve here isn't a Trump fan either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:45 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I never looked too closely at Schmidt’s twitter in the past but whenever I saw it, he seemed a little… energetic or something, in an odd way. He never even had some of the wittiness of some of his ideological cohort, say what you will of Lincoln Project types who I think he is part of, iirc.
posted by Whale Oil at 5:17 PM on May 10


Help me out here - on the McCain scale, how deeply concerned about this should I be? 1 being deeply concerned but no action being taken and 10 being deeply concerned but not doing anything?
posted by nubs at 5:23 PM on May 10 [15 favorites]


There's really no part of the republican party that doesn't seem to have connections to Russia.
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 PM on May 10 [6 favorites]


All RUS has to do is throw $20 on the ground anywhere in DC with a thread tied to it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:31 PM on May 10 [9 favorites]


because the Russians are no longer able to "support" their assets?
Absolutely, you have to hope all the world's remaining Russian agents have specified getting paid in Euros or USD. Sucks to be on the end of a contract in rubles
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:09 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]


"An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought." --- Simon Cameron.
posted by SPrintF at 7:14 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]


What Schmidt has to say about Saudi and Emirati money awash in DC is pretty interesting.

Also crazy and infuriating that Rick Davis is still out there doing his thing. No repercussions for Manafort either, of course.
posted by Gadarene at 8:29 PM on May 10 [3 favorites]


you almost certainly have very few dots to connect between any given Russian oligarch and the guys who showed the NVA/VC how to run their prisons, which is pretty wild for someone with McCain's history

From what I can tell of the various stories, McCain's staff basically maintained a figleaf between the man himself and the Russians. McCain apparently loved to hate the Russians in the abstract, but sure wasn't above taking their money as long as it went through an intermediary or two. I guess for some people, that's all it takes.

I think the important part of this story isn't that McCain had an affair or even that Schmidt covered for him (in a position where an aide probably would have been expected to do so, or to at least be coy about it to the press). The point is that McCain—long held out as the Republican party's coulda/shoulda/woulda candidate, the guy who in a better universe might have taken the party in a different direction—was dirty with Russian money, too. It's endemic to the party, it would seem.

But while the Republicans seem to have taken the most glee in rolling around in Russian petrodollars, it's not like some Democrats haven't had their turn at the trough. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass), and disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) are all reported to have been Russian beneficiaries, mostly via financier Len Blavatnik, who also donated large amounts to the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi directly.

This is not an attempt to draw a both-sides equivalence in terms of who to vote for: the Republicans have done every shady thing that the Democrats have and much more, so the choice is fairly obvious. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Democrats, at the upper echelons of the party, are merely the lesser of two evils in this situation. They're swimming in foreign oligarch cash; it's just that, like McCain and the Republicans of a previous generation, they're old-school enough to seemingly be a little embarrassed about it.

Without some sort of housecleaning effort, the current trajectory just leads to the next batch of Democrats being as bad as today's Republicans, while the next generation of Republicans lead us bravely into into new frontiers of fraud and moral depravity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:35 PM on May 10 [26 favorites]


The problem isn't Republicans, particularly, or Democrats, particularly, it's Oligarchs. And there's only one thing one can do about them.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]


Oligarchs and corporate capital, which often want the same things.
posted by Gadarene at 7:04 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Help me out here - on the McCain scale, how deeply concerned about this should I be? 1 being deeply concerned but no action being taken and 10 being deeply concerned but not doing anything?

I think this is past the McCain Scale and on the Collins Scale, where 1 is deeply concerned and being looked into and 10 is deeply concerned about an issue you can fix with a little water on the sidewalk.
posted by mephron at 7:05 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]


I did not read TFA because it sounds like a story about the kind of contest where the only sensible thing for a spectator to do is root for injuries.

As for the thread, there are a whole bunch of people talking about "youthful indiscretions." I was going to bundle them up but there are so many I won't bother. On that topic, I am reminded that the first chapter of the Lord of the Rings remarks offhandedly that for hobbits, the official coming-of-age date is the 33rd birthday, which I eventually found to be about the time that I started being capable of routinely thinking like a grownup. So by this test all of the people mentioned in the thread are out of luck except Cawthorn.
... you almost certainly have very few dots to connect between any given Russian oligarch and the guys who showed the NVA/VC how to run their prisons, which is pretty wild for someone with McCain's history who also had to be aware of those connections.
I don't see why you would think that the "NVA/VC" would need Russian help in setting up prison camps. Secret police organizations maybe, but prisons? Torturing war prisoners was already a mature technology long before the Soviet Union came along.
I wish more lefties would internalize that hypocrisy is not a meaningful accusation to the right.
Not just lefties, it's everybody except the Right. How many times between 2017 and 2021 did you see MSM news items with the gist "Republicans will have to oppose Trump after $LATEST_REVELATION_OF_OUTRAGEOUSNESS?" How many times did the force of the Truth cause the Republicans to change tack?
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:41 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


In a podcast on December 14, 2020, Schmidt announced that he planned to register as a member of the Democratic Party. Utah voter registration data in 2021 showed that Schmidt was registered as a member of the far-right American Independent Party. (Wikipedia)


Many AIP registrants in states where they exist are mistakes -- it's a well-known problem that many of them really meant "decline to state" or "independent". Some states actually ban party names from including "independent" for this reason.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 6:52 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


All done. No more. I realize many people think the disclosure of this information is very similar to @MarkTEsper disclosing Trumps Mexico War plan. Oh it’s not. I didn’t do a book. I just took the abuse and kept quiet for 14 years. Statute of limitations is up. Feeling great.
--- Steve Schmidt on Twitter


Well that's okay then. As long as you are feeling dandy about it all.

:(
posted by Pouteria at 7:48 PM on May 11


Many AIP registrants in states where they exist are mistakes -- it's a well-known problem...

OK, fair enough... I can suspend my disbelief that a veteran political operative can't figure out how to properly fill out a voter registration card. Sorry Steve S., my bad -- You're totally not a villain, you're just incompetent. ;-)
posted by zaixfeep at 9:36 AM on May 12


In a podcast on December 14, 2020, Schmidt announced that he planned to register as a member of the Democratic Party. Utah voter registration data in 2021 showed that Schmidt was registered as a member of the far-right American Independent Party. (Wikipedia)

Many AIP registrants in states where they exist are mistakes -- it's a well-known problem that many of them really meant "decline to state" or "independent". Some states actually ban party names from including "independent" for this reason.


"Democratic Party" is neither "decline to state" nor "independent".
posted by Etrigan at 9:41 AM on May 12


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