U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain denied a news report on Thursday saying that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist whose clients had business before a Senate committee where he was seated.
"I'm very disappointed in the article. It's not true," the 71-year-old Arizona Senator told a news conference in Ohio, where he was campaigning for the Republican primary on March 4.
According to a New York Times report released on Thursday, during McCain's 2000 presidential nomination campaign, aides concerned about his romantic relationship and a 40-year-old lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who represented telecommunications companies with business before the Senate Commerce Committee that McCain led.
"Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort," McCain's former top political adviser, John Weaver, told the newspaper.
Weaver said during an interview with CNN on Thursday that he had asked Iseman to stay away from the senator because she was telling people she had special access to and influence with McCain.
In an email to the New York Times, Iseman acknowledged the meeting with Weaver but denied she had received special treatment from McCain's office.
McCain has been running on a platform of political reform and shunning special interests in the presidential campaign in 2000 and also 2008.
However, he claimed at the Thursday's news conference that Iseman was merely his friend and he has never "done anything that would betray the public trust or make a decision" that would favor a particular group.
Cindy McCain also clarified that her husband is "a man of great character" who always put his family and country first.
Shortly after the report was posted online, McCain's campaign released a statement challenging the newspaper's motivation.
"He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election," it said.
One of McCain's senior advisors, Charlie Black, told reporters that the newspaper was liberal printing "rumors and gossip" in a "partisan attack" on the conservative McCain.
McCain who has won 918 delegates to vote for him at the national nomination convention, compared to 1,191 needed to secure the Republican presidential candidacy.