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Photo catches McCain celebrating birthday with indicted con man
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday September 11, 2008

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Although John McCain has made condemning the influence of lobbyists in Washington one of his signature issues, his own campaign is largely run by high-powered lobbyists, including his campaign manager, Rick Davis.

The connection with Davis appears to be behind McCain's having spent his 70th birthday partying on the yacht of Italian conman Raffaello Follieri -- who hired Davis's business partner to lobby for him just a few months later -- along with Follieri's then-girlfriend, actress Anne Hathaway. The date was Aug. 29, 2006 and the place was Montenegro, where McCain had traveled with a delegation of US senators to celebrate that nation's independence.

Although the meeting has been reported previously, the Nation has now confirmed it with a photo of John McCain preparing to board Follieri's yacht. Rachel Maddow offered an exclusive preview of the photograph on her new MSNBC program on Wednesday, noting that it "appears to undercut the well-crafted, focus group-tested image of John McCain being pushed on the American people."

Follieri, who was arrested in April for allegedly passing a bad check, has just pleaded guilty to eight counts of wire fraud and five counts of money-laundering resulting from a scheme in which he obtained millions of dollars in investments by claiming to have connections in the Vatican.

"The McCain campaign has confirmed the senator's encounter with the conman guy," Maddow noted, "telling the New York Daily News it was 'entirely social' and 'nothing came of it.'" She went on to wonder how come, in that case, "it is Barack Obama who is the celebrity, when McCain is the one spending his birthday on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea with a faboo movie star and her conman Italian boyfriend?"

Maddow was then joined by Ari Berman, co-author of the Nation article on the McCain-Follieri encounter, who suggested that McCain "has a little bit of a celebrity fetish."

Maddow asked, "Do we know why [Follieri] hired Rick Davis's lobbying firm and whether or not that connection had anything to do with John McCain?"

Berman replied that Follieri, who had already tight connections with some of Bill Clinton's aides and financial supporters, "wanted to do the same thing with McCain. He was playing both sides. ... We think he was [in Montenegro] because McCain was there, and what happened after that yacht party with McCain is, he ended up sending Rick Davis business information."

McCain had marked his previous birthday, Aug. 29, 2005, by celebrating with President Bush as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. His 71st birthday in 2007 was spent attempting to raise cash for his then-faltering presidential campaign, with his wife Cindy writing in a fundraising appeal, "Birthdays are always special occasions in the McCain family."

This video is from MSNBc's Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast September 10, 2008.

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