May 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Steve Schmidt: John McCain lied to my face

Steve Schmidt tweet about Sarah Palin
Via Twitter

After a weekend of angry tweeting, former GOP operative Steve Schmidt launched a new Substack yesterday by asserting that the late Sen. John McCain lied to him, to The New York Times and to America about his longtime relationship with a female lobbyist.

Driving the news ... Schmidt, the top strategist on McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, wrote: "John McCain told me the truth backstage at an event in Ohio ... Understandably, he was very concerned about this potentially campaign-ending issue. He kept saying, 'The campaign is over.'"

  • Earlier, Schmidt writes, McCain denied it "dozens of times to my face."

Schmidt's post followed a weekend-long Twitter diatribe directed primarily at Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter.

  • A source close to Meghan McCain told Axios the two haven't spoken since 2008.
  • Schmidt — now a consultant, and a co-founder of the Lincoln Project — says he's taken too much blame for his role in choosing Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, which has brought him 14 years of agony.

During a 40-minute phone interview, I asked Schmidt if he worries about appearing unhinged.

  • "There is some soft consensus that has emerged, mostly from soft people," he replied, "that responding to smears and slurs and insanity is some combination of unhinged or giving attention. This is as profoundly wrong a sensibility as there could conceivably be."

"I just completely reject the idea at every conceivable level — in part informed by 14 years of pain and abuse — that carrying a secret ... is healthy," he added. "It's not."

  • "I will sleep softly tonight — unburdened and much lighter than I was yesterday morning."

The McCain Institute for International Leadership, a nonprofit affiliated with the McCain family, didn't respond to a request for comment.

A New York Times story during the campaign (Feb. 2008) reported McCain's "close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business" before the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chaired.

  • Following the story's publication, Schmidt writes, McCain "lied to the American people at a news conference" for which Schmidt helped him prep.

I asked Schmidt if he has qualms about attacking a man who can't defend himself. "It's the truth," Schmidt said. "It's history. John McCain does not exist in a protected space."

  • I asked Schmidt if he had proof. "What will happen next is a number of people will go out and try to debunk what I said, maybe," he said. "And if they do, the conclusions of that effort will be solidifying the proof of what I said."
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