- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

Sen. John McCain is set this week to assume the senior Republican spot on the Armed Services Committee as he sets the stage for a presidential run while serving as his party’s top Senate spokesman on defense issues.

Republicans lost control of the budget- and policy-making committee in the November elections. Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, hands the gavel to Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat. Because of term limits, he then relinquishes the ranking Republican position to Mr. McCain of Arizona.

Mr. McCain is widely expected to formally announce this year that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. His staff and outside advisers have been working in recent weeks to piece together a minority committee staff that can operate while he is on the campaign trial.

Former Senate staffers say one of the finalists for the key post of minority staff director is Michael V. Kostiw, who was an aide to former Rep. Porter J. Goss on the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Kostiw has worked as an Army Reserve intelligence officer, a CIA clandestine officer and an oil company executive. He worked for Mr. Goss when the former congressman headed the CIA.

“If they ask me, I’ll do it,” Mr. Kostiw said in an interview. “I’ve known [Mr. McCain] for a long time. I think he is a great American.”

Mr. Kostiw still works for the CIA on a contract basis.

Charles Abell, Mr. Warner’s staff director, is moving on, as is the normal shift when a new senator assumes control of a committee staff.

Former staffers say Mr. McCain’s search team has used the word “adult” to describe the kind of staff director they were seeking — someone who could be trusted to carry out assignments while Mr. McCain addressed presidential politics outside Washington.

Republicans meet Thursday to pick ranking committee members. Mr. McCain’s spokeswoman did not return a phone message last week.

Mr. McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot held captive in North Vietnam, relies on an inner circle of aides and friends to advise him on national security issues.

One is James F. McGovern, who, like Mr. McCain, is a former Navy fighter pilot and Annapolis graduate. The two worked together when Mr. McGovern was staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 1980s. He later became undersecretary of the Air Force.

Mr. McGovern played a role in finding candidates for the staff director’s job. Former Senate aides say the list was long. Some were eliminated; at least one was said to take himself out of consideration.

Another McCain adviser is retired Navy Adm. Charles Larson, a classmate of Mr. McCain’s at the Naval Academy.

But his closest confidant is his chief of staff, Mark Salter, with whom he has written four books, including the 1999 best-seller, “Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir.”

There is a precedent for a senator holding a leadership post and running for president: Former Sen. Bob Dole, then the majority leader, captured the Republican nomination in 1996. He resigned from the Senate before the fall campaign.

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