Just six months after being rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for exercising “poor judgment” when he interfered with federal regulators on behalf of a wealthy donor, Senator John McCain engaged in activities that may have constituted an abuse of his office for personal gain. In August 1991, McCain hosted a family reunion at the Bermuda Naval Air Station (BNAS) for at least seven days at taxpayer expense. McCain’s entourage of eleven included his wife, Cindy, and several of his children. The trip took place as Washington was still dealing with the fallout from the Keating Five scandal, an episode that involved other improper luxury Atlantic-island trips for McCain.
McCain’s junket to BNAS was first reported by ABC’s Primetime Live in a postscript to a December 1992 story on Senior Petty Officer George Taylor, the whistleblower who exposed the use of the Navy base by top officials for nongovernmental purposes. A March 1993 Navy Inspector General report, precipitated by the Primetime Live segment, as well as a BNAS log record and a new interview with Taylor corroborate and amplify the substance of ABC’s story.
The Navy IG report, obtained by The Nation and never before made public, redacts the name of the “one U.S. Senator” who used BNAS as a “vacation site.” But in an interview with The Nation, Taylor, who was stationed at BNAS from May to November 1992, confirms that the senator in question was John McCain. A log book from BNAS, also obtained by The Nation, lists McCain as the only senator to have stayed on the island between 1989 and 1992.
In his interview, Taylor now recounts a conversation he had with a military psychiatrist who examined Taylor in 1992 for a psychiatric evaluation ordered by his supervisor in the wake of the Primetime Live show, in an apparent act of retaliation for his whistleblowing. The anecdote raises the disturbing possibility that McCain’s Senate office attempted to influence the outcome of Taylor’s psychiatric evaluation.
In his 2002 memoir, McCain declared that he had learned from his mistakes in the Keating Five affair, writing, “I have carefully avoided situations that might even tangentially be construed as a less than proper use of my office.” But this most recent disclosure casts doubt on that claim.
“It was a family reunion…and the guests included grown children from a prior marriage…and minor children…a baby and a nanny,” the IG report says of the McCain family vacation–some aspects of which may have violated the law.
Taylor, who had been highly decorated for his service aboard the USS Antietam, was the chief of military police at BNAS, commanding a staff of about seventy MPs. Shortly after his arrival at BNAS, he came to recognize that rather than serving a strategic military purpose, the base functioned mainly as a taxpayer-subsidized vacation spot for high-ranking officials.
“We’re not running a military installation,” Taylor told ABC. “We’re running a Howard Johnson’s.”
In accordance with Taylor’s claims, the IG report counted an inordinately high number of officer and VIP visits for a base that had one plane and no ships, and that was, according to ABC, “a cold war military relic that has outlived its usefulness.”
“The tally for our two-year period was 80 flag/general officers [admirals and generals] and 99 0-6’s [captains or colonels],” the IG report said, in addition to a number of other VIP visitors, one of whom was McCain.