Cindy McCain’s Tarnished Halo

Sun Mar 09, 2008 at 01:44:54 PM PDT

5/1/08 Update: I’m not the only one interested in Wes Gullett’s adoption of the other baby that Cindy McCain brought home from Bangladesh. Karl Rove spun the story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Can Cindy McCain Really Be That Perfect? – CNN, 3/5/08

For years, the media have allowed the McCains to promote their version of their life stories without question. Take a closer look at the McCain legend and the McCains look, shall we say, less than noble.

Most of us know the McCains adopted a sick baby from Bangladesh and that Cindy McCain was a drug addict. Cindy is almost always asked about both events and her response hardly varies from interview to interview. The media seem quite happy to laud the McCains for adopting the baby and the story of Cindy’s drug addiction is portrayed as one of redemption.

The media never, ever put the adoption in the same time frame as Cindy’s drug addiction, the Keating Five scandal and John McCain’s upcoming 1992 senate campaign but I did.

Let’s take a look at the facts.

Sometime in 1991 after the devastating April 29th cyclone in Bangladesh, Cindy McCain spent a month there with her charity, the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT). Impulsively, she decided to take two sick infant girls she found in Mother Teresa’s orphanage back to the United States with her for medical treatment. One baby had a cleft palate and the other had a heart condition.

The McCains adopted the baby with the cleft palate and named her Bridget. The other baby was adopted by Wes Gullett, Senator McCain’s administrative assistant, who named the baby “Nikki”. Gullett, after managing McCain’s 1992 campaign, went on to become Arizona governor Fife Symington’s chief of staff, a spot he wouldn’t have gotten without help from a grateful John McCain.  

By 1991, Cindy had been addicted to narcotics for at least two years. She stole drugs from her charity and forged prescriptions for four to five hundred pills at a time. Cindy has blamed her drug addiction on two back surgeries and stress from Keating Five scandal. (She was the bookkeeper who “lost” the cancelled checks for thousands of dollars in Keating-related expenses.)

Cindy was also the mother of three young children whose father, the senator, was seldom at home. Neither was she. Before her trip to Bangladesh, Cindy had been in Kuwait City with her charity after Desert Storm ended. After bringing home an infant with special needs, Cindy made even more AMVT trips including ones to Vietnam and Somalia. All in all, she made 55 such trips lasting two weeks or more between 1988 and 1995. For the mathematically challenged, that works out to an average of at least four months away from home every year for seven years. During at least four of those years, she was addicted to drugs.

In 1991, Cindy was in no condition to make decisions about her own life, let alone anyone else’s but you’ll never hear that from Cindy.

Cindy’s version of how the adoption went down:

That wrath was reserved for Bangladesh’s minister of health and human welfare, who in 1991 tried to stop her from leaving his country with two sick, abandoned baby girls, one of whom is now the McCains’ 15-year-old adopted daughter, Bridget. In Bangladesh for a month with the American Voluntary Medical Team (a nonprofit founded and funded by Cindy), she arrived at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Dhaka to find “160 baby girls who’d been dumped. And I just came upon this one baby — though I absolutely believe Bridget picked me — with a cleft palate so severe that, if it wasn’t fixed, she’d die because the nuns couldn’t feed her. Each time we returned, I’d hold her, play, marvel even then at her tenacious strength. Finally I wound up getting medical visas for her and another baby with a heart condition — not thinking about adoption — just getting them help.”

As she was leaving for the airport, Cindy got a message from the minister of health, “wanting to see me and the babies. I went, and there were all these men talking to each other while I sat with two infants, not understanding a word. Finally one said, ‘We can do surgery on this child.’ But they had no intention of helping her, and I had to make a plane, so I just slammed my fist on the table, shouting: ‘Then do it! What are you waiting for?’ They were so stunned, he immediately signed the papers. I don’t know where I got the nerve. I could’ve been arrested.”

By the time she landed in the United States, Cindy “realized I couldn’t give up this child” and called her husband, telling him about her charges and asking him to meet her at the airport. “When I disembarked carrying Bridget, John said, under his breath, ‘Where’s she going?’ I said, ‘To our house.’ He laughed. ‘I thought so.'” She chuckles. “I brought home a baby without telling him, and he not only took it in stride but loved it, immediately embracing Bridget, who shares John’s very dry sense of humor, so she and her dad do pretty well together. If I hadn’t taken Bridget out, I think she would have become a prostitute or, worse, died.” (The other infant was adopted by another family.) Her children, meanwhile, completely accepted their new sister. “They saw no difference; they never did. Nor did she, until recently.”

To be blunt, Cindy had spent a month bopping around Bangladesh whacked out of her skull. If the minister of health heard any of the gossip, he certainly should have had reservations about giving those babies to Cindy McCain. It also sounds like Cindy circumvented normal procedures and to get around the rules, she pitched a hissy fit worthy of a rich US senator’s wife. “I could’ve been arrested” is laughable.

I am somewhat skeptical about Cindy’s claim that she landed in the United States and then called her husband to tell him about her two “charges”. I’m not familiar with the necessary procedures to obtain medical visas but I suspect that obtaining one in under a month requires the intercession of someone with influence, i.e. Senator McCain.

I’m sure John McCain did meet his wife at the airport when she disembarked carrying a sick infant from a country devastated by a natural disaster. My question is whether McCain had the press in tow that day. Presumably the airport was in Phoenix. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if McCain rushed from DC to Phoenix for a photo op and was back in DC the next day.

I don’t have access to Arizona newspaper archives so I don’t know how Cindy McCain was covered in the local press in 1991. Today, the McCain campaign uses a photo of Cindy with Baby Bridget and Mother Teresa-like woman in campaign literature as evidence of McCain’s anti-abortion stance.

I did search the Washington Post archives for 1991 news stories about the McCains.

Here is a sample:

1/5/91 – Senator McCain admits that 1987 meeting with regulators “probably” created the air of impropriety.

1/7/91 – Senator McCain takes his second trip to Vietnam to inquire about MIAs.

2/28/91 – Senator McCain mildy rebuked by Senate Ethics Committee for his role in the Keating Five scandal.

3/14/91 – Senator McCain takes a three-day tour of Gulf Region after Desert Storm.

6/14/91 – Senator McCain invites lobbyists to a fundraiser.

7/1/91 – Widely syndicated columnist Jack Anderson writes about Cindy McCain’s charitable mission in the Gulf Region. Text of the column not available.

8/27/91 – Senator McCain’s ratings soar from 16% in January to 40%.

Insight into Cindy McCain’s penchant for self-promotion comes from entries in Tom Gosinski’s private journal published in the Phoenix News in 1994. From September 1991 to January 1993 when he was fired, Tom Gosinski was the AMVT’s director of government and international affair. He was the one who alerted the DEA about Cindy forging presecriptions and he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit which caused Cindy’s drug addiction to become public knowledge.

From Gosinki’s journal:

August 14, 1992: Work started off at a relatively normal pace this morning. And then–Kathy received a call from Royal Norman at Ch 3 regarding a possible AVMT trip to Somalia. Before Kathy informed me of her conversation with Royal she told Cindy and Cindy jumped all over the issue. Now Cindy wants to airlift a load of supplies to Somalia and use Ch 3 to get the coverage she so desperately goes after. I think the whole idea is crazy as we have so much to do with the Navajos but Cindy seems intent on making it happen.

August 28, 1992: Work has been crazy–Cindy decided we should take a load of supplies to the Miami area to assist in the Hurricane Andrew relief efforts. It would be simple to complete the task if Cindy would not interfere with the rest of us doing our jobs, however, she is constantly stirring things up.

We are also contemplating a trip to Somalia–Mark Salter in John McCain’s Washington office has stated that the State Department and the Department of Defense believe it is not safe to travel to Somalia or the northern regions of Kenya. Cindy insists that we are going to go on the trip and that it may be wise for us to pack guns.

She is absolutely crazy–I don’t know how to load a gun let alone shoot one. . . .

September 2, 1992: This past week at AVMT has certainly been a challenge. All of us that work for Cindy have been asked to put in extended hours at night and on the weekend and have not even received a thank you. Cindy is the most demanding and thankless person I have ever met.

September 3, 1992: Work is crazy as usual. The trip to Florida on Monday is on schedule–we are now traveling as a cleanup crew in blue hospital scrubs. I questioned wearing scrubs but Cindy insisted that the ‘visual’ is important, so–we are going to rummage through the rubble of Hurricane Andrew in scrubs. [Cindy wear blue scrubs in the campaign photo I linked to above. – Mrs P.]

Whatever . . . Per Mrs. McCain the AVMT schedule for the next couple of weeks is as follows: Miami cleanup from September 7 through September 11; Navajo Nation parade September 12; and depart for Somalia on September 13. Cindy must think that we have a staff of 20 as she has certainly not sat down, looked at a calendar and rationally thought about what she is suggesting we accomplish. . . .

September 29, 1992: Regardless of what happens with Cindy McCain, it is time for me to get out of AVMT. I have so little respect for Cindy and her objectives–she has made AVMT a media event–that even under the best of circumstances I do not think this organization merits existence. . . .

January 11, 1993: . . . It is evident to me that AVMT is in serious need of an organizational change. . . . Our shot gun approach to providing medical care has minimal impact when a focused approach on a specific area or type of care could significantly impact the target constituency. . . .

Reading Gosinski’s journal, I am becoming more convinced that the AMVT was a vanity operation set up to promote the McCains’image. Really, what could a tiny little operation do in a couple of weeks in Miami? Or Somalia, for that matter? The AVMT’s 990s filed with the IRS, if available, could give us an idea about the size of the operation and how money was spent.

In his journal, Gosinski also gives us a glimpse into the backstory of Cindy’s drug addiction:

October 2, 1992: Well, it is done. Last night Jim and Smitty [Cindy’s parents]confronted Cindy regarding her dependency to prescription drugs and she admitted to her addiction. I understand that she told the Hensleys her addiction was rooted in her unhappiness–her marriage–and that she took the pills to mask her depression. The Hensleys told Cindy they knew she had a problem because of her severe mood swings and her change in character. They also said her meanness towards others was not excusable and must stop. . . .

To this day, Cindy claims that her husband had no idea about her drug addiction until she fessed up.

As far as I know, one question about Cindy’s drug addiction has never been satisfactorily answered. Was she treated for addiction in 1991 and 1992 or did she lie to the DEA investigators?

From the Phoenix News:

Although she told reporters she went into a residential drug treatment program earlier this year, she told investigators she had treatment during 1991 and 1992. Whom did she lie to–investigators or reporters?

More to come.

(Crossposted at TPM Cafe on 5/1/08)

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