McCains protégé alleged to be involved in scandalous web
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
Its just as well John McCains long reach for the presidential
brass ring trail faltered.
Had he beaten George W., news reporters hungry for fresh angles
mightve returned to Phoenix and taken a fresh look at McCains political
protégé, J. Fife Symington III, a rising star in the Republican galaxy who was destroyed
Symington, 55, was Arizonas two-term governor until forced to resign
in 1997 after being convicted on multiple federal fraud charges involving a real estate
empire built on phony claims of wealth and millions of dollars in loans secured with empty
promises to lenders. The conviction was reversed because the trial judge bounced an
incoherent juror, and is being appealed.
Now Symington is in bankruptcy court, where a union pension fund hopes to
recover $10 million lost on Symington real estate projects.
Symington and McCain are more than two peas in the Republican pod.
Symingtons lawyer in his criminal trial was Washington attorney John Dowd, also
McCains lawyer in Senate ethics committee hearings that found McCain guilty of
"poor judgment" in dealings with master swindler Charles Keating.
Symingtons chief of staff in the Arizona governors office was
Wes Gullett, now one of McCains closest political advisers. In fact, as McCain
confirmed for The Arizona Republic, he and Gullett gamble together in Las Vegas.
Gullets wife, Deb, also is a McCain adviser and aide in his Arizona office.
Symington and McCain are on their second marriages, each to young
millionairesses (Cindy McCains fortune stems from a beer distributorship; Ann
Symingtons from the Olin industrial fortune).
During Symingtons federal criminal trial, Cindy McCain was a regular
front row spectator with Symingtons family. McCain, it has been widely reported, was
so dedicated to Symingtons future that he offered to buy Symingtons 1994 GOP
primary opponent, Barbara Barrett, out of the gubernatorial race with cash. But Barrett, a
highly regarded senior appointee in the Reagan and Bush administrations, a lawyer with
international clients and wife of the CEO of chipmaker Intel, refused, angering McCain.
McCain abandoned another friendship over Symington: he ostracized his
onetime congressional aide, Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, after Woods began a
criminal investigation of Symington.
Symington turned out to be a master liar.
The great-grandson of Pittsburgh steel magnate Henry Clay Frick and son of
Pan American World Airways executive John Fife Symington Jr., Symington convinced voters
in 1990 and 1994 he was a millionaire real estate tycoon. But, after his 1994 election, he
announced he was $35 million in debt, with only $61,000 in assetsdespite being
married to a millionairess and having income from a family trust. After pleading poverty,
Symington left with his wife on a luxury European vacation.
And why didnt bankers who knew of Symingtons true financial
fix blow the whistle? Allegations circulated in political circles that the banks wanted
more state business and avoided offending Gov. Symington.
Finally, this irony: McCains friend, Symington, is being questioned
about whether he has any hidden assets by Phoenix lawyer Michael Manning, who won hundreds
of millions of dollars in judgments against savings and loan swindler Charlie Keating,
McCains one-time friend and benefactor.
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona
Republic and a former radio commentator.