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He said Mr. Gramm phoned campaign headquarters and talked to his old friend and former 1996 campaign strategist Charlie Black, a Washington power broker who left his own firm to volunteer to travel with Mr. McCain.

“Phil found out about the Novak column and he wanted out,” the McCain official said privately. “There was a mild attempt to convince him to hold off, to discuss it further. Gramm said he didn’t want to be a distraction for McCain.”

According to the source, “someone at the highest level of the campaign - not Mr. McCain himself - said, ‘You don’t need to do that, Phil.’” But Mr. Gramm didn’t want to be deterred.

But another campaign professional close to many in the McCain organization suggested someone had decided days ago that Mr. Gramm was finished.

“Carly Fiorina is an acolyte of Rick Davis [a top MCain campaign adviser],” the operative said privately.

“Gramm had confronted Davis about 3EDC, a company Davis had an ownership interest in - originally undisclosed to Mr. McCain and that was raking in money from the McCain campaign,” the operative in daily contact with the campaign said..

“Gramm told Davis while [former campaign manager Terry Nelson and former McCain strategist John Weaver] were there Davis, should leave,” the operative said. “Gramm urged McCain to not promote Davis.”

Mr. Davis in the recent past has rebuffed media questions, saying, “I don’t talk to reporters.”

Top McCain officials on Saturday did not make Mr. Davis available for comment, but adamantly denied he had anything to do with Mr. Gramm’s departure.

In the view of a McCain friend, “Carly Fiorina wants the Treasury job and saw Gramm as a rival. My view is someone close to Davis, maybe Paul Manafort, Wayne Berman or Scott Reed leaked” to Mr. Novak to get him to mention that Mr. McCain was going to keep Mr. Gramm on the campaign.

In his meeting at The Times, Mr. Gramm discussed foreign policy as well as economic issues. Some conservatives of his general persuasion have argued that the war on Iraq was wrong in principle, but he said his focus is no longer on “whether we should ever have gotten involved” in the Iraq war now that the U.S. is there but on how to avoid defeat.

Asked if the same rationale applies to leaks from various U.S. and Israeli officials that if the United States doesn’t destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities before year’s end, Israel will - with Washington’s quiet blessings.

“My own view I think it would be a cowardly act to ask Israel to do this,” Mr. Gramm said. “One, they don’t have the equipment we have. They couldn’t do it precisely, which means there would be more civilian casualties. They will lose airmen that we might not lose.”

Mr. Gramm said Iran’s developing nuclear capability “is fundamentally our problem. We are the leader of the world. So I would just see it as an act of national cowardice myself.”