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McCain calls Times story on lobbyist 'untrue'

Republican presidential front-runner John McCain on Thursday dismissed as "untrue" a New York Times report suggesting he had close ties to a female lobbyist nine years ago in a potential conflict with his high ethical stances.

Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain smiles towards the crowd during his appearance at his Wisconsin primary election night rally in Columbus, Ohio February 19, 2008. (REUTERS/ John Sommers II)

"Obviously I'm very disappointed in the article. It's not true," the four-term Arizona senator told a news conference.

"At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust or make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor any one or any organization," McCain said.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that McCain had a close relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, saying that early in McCain's failed bid for the 2000 presidential election, members of his campaign had grown concerned the relationship might harm the campaign.

At the news conference, McCain described Iseman as a "friend" whom he has seen on various occasions in Washington including fund-raisers and receptions.

"I have many friends in Washington that represent various interests," he said. "I consider her a friend." He said he last saw her several months ago at "some event."

According to the Times article, "Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself -- instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity."

The Times cited instances where it said McCain had appeared to undermine his own demands for high ethical behavior from members of Congress. The Washington Post quoted a veteran McCain aide John Weaver, who no longer works for the campaign, as saying he had urged Iseman to stay away from McCain.

McCain said he did not know of any meeting between Weaver and Iseman.

McCain, a Vietnam war hero, has long promoted high ethical standards among lawmakers and has written legislation to limit the influence of money in politics.

He is the all-but-certain Republican nominee to face Democrats in the Nov. 4 presidential election to succeed President George W. Bush. At 71, he would be the oldest person to ever win a first presidential term.

The paper said both McCain and Iseman had denied any romantic relationship. McCain also told the Times that he never showed favoritism to Iseman or her clients.

"But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity," the paper said.

McCain's wife, Cindy, defended her husband, saying she and her children trusted him. "He is a man of great character," she said by his side, expressing disappointment in the story.

The paper's report was likely to ignite a fierce response from supporters as McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, presses ahead with this campaign on a platform of high ethical standards.

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