Years after he resurrected his political fortunes from the Keating Five savings and loan investigation, John McCain promoted an Arizona land swap that would've benefited a former mentor and partner of the scandal's central figure.
The owners of the Spur Cross Ranch, a dramatic 2,154-acre tract of Sonoran desert just north of Phoenix, in the late 1990s sought to sell it to a developer who planned to build a premier golf course surrounded by 390 luxury homes.
Nearby residents and environmentalists, however, wanted to preserve the area's unusual cacti, stone formations and hundreds of Hopi Indian tribal artifacts.
After opposition surfaced, the developer sought McCain's help in forging a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service — a deal that also would benefit the owners of the ranch, including a company controlled by billionaire Carl H. Lindner Jr., an associate of S&L chief Charles H. Keating.
McCain and an aide pushed for the exchange in more than a half dozen sometimes-testy letters and phone calls up and down the Forest Service's hierarchy, according to former agency officials and correspondence. McCain's office even circulated draft legislation that would have overridden the agency's objection to surrendering national forest land. Ultimately, the deal fell apart.
McCain's behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Spur Cross contrasts with his image as a congressional ethics champion and his pledge — made after the Keating scandal in 1991 sullied his reputation — never to intervene with regulators again.
McCain's actions, which went on for nearly two years, also appear at odds with boasts in his 2002 book, "Worth the Fighting For," that he'd never pressured regulators at any time since 1991 and acted only on matters that "serve an obvious public purpose."