- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sen. John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 ½-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

The payments raise ethical questions about the intersection of Randy Scheunemann’s personal financial interests and his advice to the Republican presidential candidate who is seizing on Russian aggression in Georgia as a campaign issue.

Mr. McCain warned Russian leaders Tuesday that their assault in Georgia risks “the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world.”

On April 17, a month and a half after Mr. Scheunemann stopped working for Georgia, his business partner signed a $200,000 agreement with the Georgian government. The deal added to an arrangement that brought in more than $800,000 to the two-man firm from 2004 to mid-2007. For the duration of the campaign, Mr. Scheunemann is taking a leave of absence from the firm.

“Scheunemann’s work as a lobbyist poses valid questions about McCain’s judgment in choosing someone who - and whose firm - are paid to promote the interests of other nations,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. “So one must ask whether McCain is getting disinterested advice, at least when the issues concern those nations.

“If McCain wants advice from someone whose private interests as a once-and-future lobbyist may affect the objectivity of the advice, that’s his choice to make.”

The Arizona senator has been to Georgia three times since 1997 and “this is an issue that he has been involved with for well over a decade,” said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

Mr. McCain’s strong condemnation in recent days of Russia’s military action against Georgia as “totally, absolutely unacceptable” reflects long-standing ties between Mr. McCain and Mr. Scheunemann.

Mr. Scheunemann, who also was a foreign policy adviser in Mr. McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign, has for years traveled the same road as Mr. McCain in pushing for regime change in Iraq and promoting NATO membership for Georgia and other former Soviet republics.

In addition to the 49 contacts with Mr. McCain or his staff regarding Georgia, Mr. Scheunemann’s firm has lobbied the senator or his aides on at least 47 occasions since 2001 on behalf of the governments of Taiwan and Macedonia, which each paid Mr. Scheunemann and his partner Mike Mitchell more than half a million dollars; Romania, which paid more than $400,000; and Latvia, which paid nearly $250,000.

Federal law requires Mr. Scheunemann to publicly disclose to the Justice Department all his lobbying contacts as an agent of a foreign government.

Four months ago, on the same day that Mr. Scheunemann’s partner signed the latest $200,000 agreement with Georgia, Mr. McCain spoke with President Mikheil Saakashvili by phone. Mr. Rogers, the McCain campaign spokesman, said the call took place at the request of the Embassy of Georgia.

McCain campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace added that the senator has full confidence in Mr. Scheunemann.

“We’re proud of anyone who has worked on the side of angels in fledgling democracies,” she said.

Mr. McCain called Mr. Saakashvili again on Tuesday. “I told him that I know I speak for every American when I said to him, today, we are all Georgians,” Mr. McCain told a cheering crowd in York, Pa.

His Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, had spoken with Mr. Saakashvili the previous day.

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