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crossposted at dailykos, teacherken, and myleftwing

The recent contretemps between John  McCain and Barack Obama has led to a number of people questioning the temperament of the Senior Senator from Arizona.   Among these is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, who is a well-known blogger, previously at and now at  On February 7th he wrote a brief piece in which he said

Note to reporters: better put a "hold" on the McCain canonization until he finishes with his anger-management classes.

Since I have known Mark for more than 3 decades (we overlapped at Haverford College) I sent an email which has led to my involvement in this story.  I will, below the fold, explain why I became involved, and what I have uncovered, as well as what else Mark has found.  I will attempt to be fair to Sen. McCain, but I think there is enough of a picture emerging to demonstrate that his actions with respect to Sen. Obama are part of a larger pattern that raise at least to me a question about his temperament.

I had memories of Sen. McCain during the nomination of John Tower to be SecDef going to the floor of the Senate and reading into the record something about the psychiatric background of a former military man who had made an accusation of seeing Tower drunk on an airbase.  I sent Mark an email, which became incorporated into another post,which you can read in Mark's February 8th post McCain's History of Slime & Defend, which has been updated several times since.  I am the "reader" whom he quotes.   Because he was asking for further verification and links on the story (which he did obtain from others), I decided to do some digging.

The problem was, when I went to search the Congressional Record online, I could not find anything.  So I decided to post a request to the Library of Congress through their "ask a librarian" capability, and today I got this response:

We were able to locate Sen. John McCain's remarks in the Congressional Record concerning the medical records of retired Air Force sergeant Bob Johnson. McCain made the remarks on March 2, 1989, which we were able to find in the bound, print edition of the Congressional Record, Volume 135, Part 3, page 3279.

However, we were unable to locate this information in the online version of the Congressional Record on the THOMAS Web site It appears that the March 2, 1989, edition of the Congressional Record on THOMAS is missing over 100 pages of text, including the page in which McCain discusses Jackson's medical records. We have submitted an error report to the technical staff responsible for maintaining the THOMAS site. Hopefully this omission will be corrected in the near future.

By the way, this message is slightly inaccurate, as the name of the sergeant was actually Jackson.  The information is available in the printed version of the Congressional Record, but there is apparently no explanation for the gap in the online version.  That gap is of course why I could not find the information by searching electronically.

I now have a copy of the page in question, as well as several contemporaneous news articles, from the NY Times and the Washington Post.  The incident begins with front page stories in both papers on March 2nd in which Jackson's allegations about two visits to Bergstrom  Air Force Base in the period 1976 through 1978 included reports of drunkenness and other inappropriate behavior. The Sergeant had made these charges in a letter to Sen. Sam Nunn, then chair of Armed Services, with oversight over the nomination. Jackson repeated the charges in interviews with the FBI.  The Post story was written by Bob Woodward while the Times story had no byline.

Apparently McCain contacted the Air Force for rebuttal information, then went to the floor of the Senate to make the following remarks, which I will attempt to completely reproduce.  Please note the following:  "Berkstrom" is how it appears in the Record, as is the apparent typo "psychiatric".

    Mr. President, I have some information I think would be very interesting to the Members of this body and others concerning the allegation that was printed on the front page of the Washington Post this morning concerning an allegation made by a retired Technical Sergeant Jackson concerning some alleged behavior on the part of Senator John Tower during some period between 1976 and 1978.
     I remind my colleagues it was on the front page of the Washington Post.  We have now received information that this individual's last duty was when he reported to Berkstrom Air Force Base on February 21, 1976.  His last duty day was March 16, 1977.  He was referred to the Wilford Hall Medical Centern for Psychological Evaluation and was later retired for psychiatric disability, and the details of that can be made available.  He was permanently retired on April 19, 1978 for a psychiartic condition.
     I also point out that the 12th Air Force Commander from June 1975 through June 1978 recalls John Tower to be in Berkstrom only once during the period, the first Saturday in August 1975 for an air show.  That memory has been confirmed by the wing commander and vice wing commander and master chief of the Air Force.
     Mr. President, the reason I am bringing this very important information to the attention of this body is that this allegation was obviously given great credibility by the media by being printed on the front page of the Washington Post. I think it clearly indicates there is no validity to that and very little we can do to repair the damage that is done by the allegation and I understand was going to be carried on national media tonight.
     I hope it clears up the situation, and we will be glad to provide further details on this information we received.

There were followup stories in both the Post and the NY Times the following day.   The Post story was on A-1, and was written by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward.  It is important to note that these events are occurring after the Arfemd Services Committee had voted to reject the nomination, but before the entire Senate acted on march 9 in a similar fashion (I believe the final vote as 47-53).    The Post story quotes Sens. Cohen and Nunn as saying that they had paid little attention to Jackson's charges, with the paragraph on Nunn reading

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said last night" "This [Jackson's account] was merely one item was cumulative ofother information about Sen. Tower's excessive drinking in the 1970s, which both the White House and the nominee have now acknowledged,  Therefore, this item was not a significant fact in my own thoughts or, I believe, in the committee's deliberations."

It is worth noting that McCain was a member of the committee.  He had released a letter dated on March 2nd from the Air Force general counsel Anne N. Foreman sent to the minority (Republican) counsel of the committee.  Let me continue with the Post story

    Foreman's letter said military records show that Jackson was assigned to Bergstrom from February 21, 1976, until April 19, 1978.  :On 21 March 1977 Sergeant Jackson was referred to Wilfred Hall Medical center for medical supervision and was subsequently placed on the Temporary Disability Retired List following medical and psychological evaluation," Foreman said.
     The Physical Evaluation Board that evaluated Jackson concluded that he "exhibited symptoms of a mixed personality disorder with anti-social themes and hysterical features."
    Foreman said that after March 21, 1977, Jackson was "unable to perform his duties" and was retired in April 1978.

This was the material with which McCain was dealing.   Unfortunately it was not a complete and accurate portrayal, something made clear in the NY Times story of March 4 by David Rosenbaum entitled "Tower Accuser was Attacked by Omissions" and subtitled "Airman's Records Don't' Stress Mental Problem."  This story appeared on page 8.  It was based on a more complete set of the Sergeant's records obtained and released by Sam Nunn and John Warner (who was the ranking Republican on the Committee).  While that record does reference a personality trait disorder,  and I reproduce the  operable paragraphs of the story that immediately followed:

    But it concluded:  "A review of available medical records fails to substantiate the presence of any neurosis or psychosis.  There is evidence of a personality disorder marked by uncooperative behavior.  Reliability may be a problem. My review of the member's personnel records reflects an average NCO who was generally well thought of, but who also had a tendency to be a little too aggressive and somewhat overly idealistic.  He also seems to have consistently fallen short in the area of bearing and behavior, in the judgment of his superiors."
     It was signed by Colonel Kenneth G. B. Joyce of the judge advocate's staff.
                "Lesser of Two Evils
     The evalution indicated that the sergeant was retired from the Air Force not for psychological reasons, as was suggested by the letter made public Thursday, but largely because of a bad knee and other physical problems.
   Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican and a retired Navy captain, said in an interviewed  today: "I'm sorry I had to do it, but weighed in the balance of assassination of a man's character, it was the lesser of two evils."  He said he was still comfortable with what he hd done after seeing the full evaluation.  

Thus McCain still thought his actions were justified.  Let's examine this a bit further.  If he wanted to discredit the Sergeant's report, would not the statement by the ranking officers about the only visit Tower made have been sufficient? Did not in fact McCain know that the committee had given little specific weight to this report, but also had ample evidence - acknowledged by both the White House and Tower himself - of serious drinking problems contemporaneous with this supposed incident? And in that case, how did even the false report of Sgt. Jackson represent an assassination of Tower's character? And where is McCain's retraction of the charge that Jackson was retired for psychological reasons? Granted, he was using incomplete information provided by the Air Force which implied (but apparently did not directly state) that the discharge was for such reasons. Once he learned that part of his statement was incorrect, why did he not withdraw or correct it?

The Times article quotes a lawyer named Ronald Plesser who helped write the 1974 Privacy Act and later served as general counsel of the Privacy Protection Study Commission.  The story says that he described the release of the medical records as  

"a clear violation of the spirit of the Privacy Act."
     Only under extraordinary circumstances, said Mr. Plesser and other experts, can medical records be made public without the consent of the serviceman involved.

But in my first email to Mark Kleiman, I was unaware of the following, also from the same article:

Mr. McCain was not legally liable because the Privacy Act does not apply to members of Congress.  Mr. Plesser said Pentagon officials probably also could not successfully be sued because they were responding to a request from Congress.

I know that Mark is pursuing at least one other incident demonstrating this pattern of behavior by McCain.  From my standpoint, there was no justification for reading the medical information into the record, even had the statement been accurate and complete, which it was not. One wonders if the form of the request for information, which would have been made officially by minority counsel for the committee at McCain's behest, was so phrased that it engendered a document that could be interpreted the way McCain chose to characterize the information provided.  Regardless, if his point was to discredit the allegation, one would think it was sufficient to offer the credible counter testimony by ranking officers about the impossibility of the allegation.  That McCain chose to go further, and has never apologized for what he did, has always bothered me.  I see it as a question of temperament, one again clearly displayed in how he reacted to Barack Obama this week.

Originally posted to teacherken on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:09 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think this is important - (4.00)
    and thus I truly hope you will keep it visible for a while.   Again,the choice is always yours.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:12:15 PM PST

  •  It's too much to absorb (none)
    but it seems like it's  all too much to absorb.  It's like the earth is  vomiting up so many Republican stories that I feel like I'm drowning.
  •  All you need to know about McCain (3.66)
    is in this photograph:

    "Nordic, one of the most obnoxious people at Daily Kos." -- DHinMI

    by Nordic on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:25:27 PM PST

    •  what kills me is rove totally destroyed McCain's (none)
      campaign. What a loser. Bush is the last person he should be fondeling.

      MATTHEWS says Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility" (Hardball, 10/24/05)

      by Krush on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 10:29:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another part of the picture (4.00)
    McCain made the following joke about Chelsea Clinton's appearance when she was only 18 years old: "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."
    I'm glad McCain lost his cool with Senator Obama because it's made more people aware of the fact that he has a very dark side underneath all that shiny paint the media has helped cover him up with.
  •  Recommended (none)
    but I disagree with your premise that McCain's bringing a "hidden" fact publically to light is the same thing as his playing petty personal politics with Obama.  From what I can tell from your convoluted post, McCain's only crime regarding Tower was to read into the Congressional Record evidence that was hidden from the public but that made him unfit to be Secretary of Defense.  True, the Privacy Act makes these actions taken by an ordinary citizen illegal, but there's an exception for members of Congress and there's a good reason for that.  Someone who is a member of Congress should have the right to inform the American people of a serious character flaw with a potential member of their Cabinet.

    Please explain why I am wrong.

    •  No: this was against a private citizen (none)
      You've misunderstood: McCain wasn't reading evidence about Tower into the record (which, yes, would have been legitimate, albeit hardball): he was reading medical information about a private citizen, a former soldier, who had criticized Tower.

      Illegal or not, that's surely a grotesque violation of an individual's privacy.  It's also a frighteningly vindictive act against a private citizen by a powerful government official.

      Anyone want this man to be president with the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps conveniently established by his predecessor?

      New York, 9/11. New Orleans, 8/29. Feel safer now?

      by Leaves on the Current on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:19:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The info he was reading into the record (none)
      Was not about Tower, but about Tech Sgt. Jackson, who had reported Tower's drunken behavior. McCain was attempting to hide Tower's flaws, not bring them to light.

      The American taxpayers wouldn't object to free transportation for certain government officials if they'd go where we wish they would.

      by PatsBard on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:19:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  A matter of opinion (none)
      Leaving your initial misreading aside, I want to mention that I strongly disagree with you that this diary is convoluted in any way. On the contrary, I thought it was quite lucid, which is why your comment took by surprise, and I suppose as well, why I'm taking the time to quibble with you. It's really no big deal; I just need to say this.

      I read it through in about 15 minutes (including the linked materials) and found nothing murky or unnecessarily labyrinthine about it. When you consider the multi-sourced background information the diarist had to deftly establish, the missing records he sought and couldn't find and then went to even further lengths to track down, the mistakes in the records themselves once he found them which he caught and pointed out lest any confusion arise, and finally the cast of characters both material and immaterial that, for his readers' sake, he strove to keep as distinct as possible, I'd say this diary is feat of clarity and orderliness. At least it was for me!

      Well, that's all. I feel better now. Cheers,

      Is nothing secular?

      by aitchdee on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 05:56:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  thanks (none)
    For hammering on McCain. He is my senator. The more I learn about him, the less I like him. I was arguing with my mother about him the other night.

    I distrust him. I think he has very few principles, though he plays a principled man well on TV.

  •  Good work. Another round of ... (4.00)
    ...antidotes to those (hopefully very) few Kossacks who still think that the idiotic Joe Biden was a smart fellow when he proposed a Kerry-McCain fuson ticket. As I keep telling anyone who will listen, McCain's war record, his campaign reform efforts and his long-ago standing up to George Bush are all he's got in his favor. Stop treating him as if he's a great guy who, deep at heart, is on our side.
    •  I think I'll hotlist (4.00)
      it to link when those people praise him. You'd think an average rating of 85 from Th John Birch Society, 80's from the Christian Coalition, 100's from Concerned Womaen for America, 0's from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, 0's from the ACLU and NAACP and 50's from environmental groups would be enough.

      Saddly it isn't.

      "I was Rambo in the disco. I was shootin' to the beat. When they burned me in effigy. My vacation was complete." Neil Young. Mideast Vacation.

      by Mike S on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 12:12:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes. (none)
      Great point.  If REPUBLICAN McCain wins the White House it won't be because of James Dobson.  It will be because of Liberals who think he's such a good guy.

      This guy is a classic Passive/Agressive flip-flopper.  With a temper.  Hopefully he will do himself in.  If not, do you thin guys like George Allen or Rudy will lay back on him?  I can't wait to see them try and swift-boat McCain.

  •  McCain's carefully fabricated public persona (none)
    will shatter like glass in the pressurized environment of a national campaign.  He's no Mr. Clean, either, despite his media image as some sort of white knight. - Kicking against the pricks since '98!

    by chuckvw on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:49:54 PM PST

    •  "Straight Talk." (4.00)
      That is the media picture and they're sticking with it. I can think of no other pol that gets more hand jobs by the press than him. He doesn't even have to leave money on the dresser when he leaves in the morning.

      "I was Rambo in the disco. I was shootin' to the beat. When they burned me in effigy. My vacation was complete." Neil Young. Mideast Vacation.

      by Mike S on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:53:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Look McCain is a Maverick (none)
    wanker who only cares about himself and how he can become President. The less likely that becomes the more insane McCain will get.
  •  In my personal opinion (none)
    McCain is an unstable man. He does not have the ability to really lead a nation and how so many people like him is beyound me.

    I feel he should be respected as a warrior who suffered a heavy burden as a prisoner of war. His service should be respected, however there have been many great heros and great warriors who have given much for their country who are not fit to run this country.

    "That's all I got to say about that"

    Aint scared of nobody cause I want my freedom. Aint scared of nobody cause I want my freedom now.

    by eaglecries on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 05:17:08 AM PST

  •  great post (none)
    some things i knew, some i didnt...those that i didnt know, im not surprised.  

    i used to like mccain until he took the $%*&$# of a lifetime from gw and from the pic above, seems to like it.

    i wonder if he calls him daddy?

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