John McCain could have been expelled from the Senate for ethics violations, but was able to quash and obfuscate the investigations, at least until the statute of limitations expired. Sahil Mahtani has an extensively researched article in The New Republic
Yet the Ethics Committee’s was not the only investigation into the scandal. There were two other probes at the time that got barely any public attention–both of which largely focused on McCain himself. These were probes into illicit leaks about the proceedings of the Ethics Committee–leaks that repeatedly benefited McCain and hurt his Keating Five colleagues. One of those senators described the leaks at the time as a “violation of ethical behavior at least as serious as anything of which we senators have been accused.”
The leaks, if they were coming from a senator, were also illegal. All five senators–including McCain–had testified under oath and under the U.S. penal code that the leaks did not come from their camps. The leaks were also prohibited by rules of the Senate Ethics Committee; according to the rules of the Senate, anyone caught leaking such information could face expulsion from the body. These, then, were not the usual Washington disclosures: Discovered, they could have stopped the career of any Washington politician in his tracks.
The two investigations into the leaks suggested McCain’s involvement but were officially inconclusive. New evidence, obtained in recent weeks, again points back to the McCain camp. The investigator of those leaks now says that he does not doubt that they came from McCain or his team. A reporter who possessed evidence in the Keating case now says he believes that McCain was the source and got away with it. Finally, a senator who has emerged as a key backer of McCain’s presidential campaign turns out to have authored a letter stating flatly that McCain was the source of the damning leaks. Put together, a large record of evidence now points in the direction of Senator McCain. Far from McCain’s reputation of putting “country first,” these leaks depict a formidable politician willing to go through great lengths to maintain his standing. More than McCain’s relationship with Keating, it is the story of the Keating investigation leaks that voters should know.
McCain leaked to incriminate the other four Senators, and exonerate himself. Classy.
The Senate Ethics investigation into the Keating Five scandal would last over a year, between 1989 and 1991. But before the actual hearings even began, carefully timed leaks featuring information from Committee deliberations–which were secret–began to appear. Committee members were privy to the information that was ending up in the leaks, but so were the five senators and their staffs, who received Committee documents in order to safeguard their due process rights.
The leaks had instant impact. One source close to the case described them as “backfires lit in the beltway press and in the states where the five senators were from.” There were nine in all, some correct, some incorrect. Almost all of them–eight to be precise–either exonerated McCain or implicated the other senators.
Essentially, the leaks deflected public attention away from McCain and toward his colleagues. One leak, the week of DeConcini and Riegle’s appearances before the Committee in October, 1990, described the probe against them as having “broadened,” and accused Riegle, then Banking Committee chairman, of improper regulatory intervention. Neither part was true, yet the leak ricocheted in the press instantly. One headline from the Washington Post blared, “Panel Reveals Riegle-Keating Meetings; Senator Said to Have Maintained Contact After Start of S&L Probe,” and another from the Los Angeles Times read, “Panel Action is Seen as Prelude to a Full-Scale Investigation of Sens. Cranston, DeConcini and Riegle.” Meanwhile, approval ratings for Riegle and DeConcini began to tank in their home states. Later on, the leaks investigation would conclude that the leak “[could] only be described” as an attempt to “influence the deliberations on DeConcini and Riegle.”