Top McCain adviser lobbied for Republic of Georgia
Andrew McLemore
Published: Sunday August 10, 2008

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Senator John McCain faces another political entanglement with top adviser Randay Scheunemann, who was a registered lobbyist for the Georgian government until earlier this year, Politico reported.

A public relations firm working for the Russian Federation disclosed the information to the Obama and McCain campaigns, making it clear that McCain's Saturday morning criticism of Russian violence in Georgia is neither welcome nor without hypocrisy.

The Obama campaign immediately took advantage of the disclosure.

"John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser lobbied for, and has a vested interest in, the Republic of Georgia and McCain has mirrored the position advocated by the government," said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.

Sevugan added that it was a "conflict of interest" following naturally from McCain's close ties to lobbyists.

Scheunemann said such criticism is unjust considering that he severed his ties to Georgia and the firm representing it March 1 and that McCain has supported the country's shift towards the West since he visited in 1997.

But Scheunemann, the chief foreign policy adviser for the campaign, had already been working for the McCain campaign for months before he ended registered ties with several foreign governments including Georgia, The New York Times reported.

McCain took Scheunemann with him on a trip to Georgia in 2006.

The Republican Senator harshly criticized Russia for fighting in Georgia that has already claimed more than 2,000 lives.

That brought chiding from the Obama camp, which said McCain was quick to judge a complicated situation, adding that the international community needs to get involved to protect Georgia's sovereignty.

Scheunemann defended McCain's statement and criticized the Obama campaign, suggesting it was placing too much blame on both countries.

"Sen. McCain is clearly willing to note who he thinks is the aggressor here," Scheunemann said. "I don't think you can excuse, defend, explain or make allowance for Russian behavior because of what is going on in Georgia."

The adviser did not mention that fighting in Georgia began when the country's government tried to retake a pro-Russian region that won autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s, The New York Times reported.

Scheunemann has been at the center of several scandals, including recent evidence that linked him with a lobbyist under scrutiny from Congress for offering access to top White House officials in exchange for six-figure donations.

The adviser's troublesome connections are one reason why The Wall Street Journal said McCain is "on the defense over ties to lobbyists."