Salon investigation: A powerful senator prodded President Lyndon Johnson into promoting John McCain's father to a four-star admiral, despite concerns about his competence





As the Republican nominee for president this year, John McCain is running as a maverick against Washington, but he and his family have long been part of Washington's military-political culture and benefited professionally from their connections. And now a Salon investigation has revealed that a powerful senator prodded President Lyndon Johnson into promoting John McCain's father to a four-star admiral, despite the defense secretary's concern he wasn't competent for the job.

After years of badgering by Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., Johnson in 1967 promoted Vice Adm. John S. "Jack" McCain Jr. from a dead-end post to commander of the Atlantic fleet, according to archived letters, documents and tapes of phone conversations that have not been reported until now. Johnson did it even though Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said in a 1966 phone conversation with Johnson that he had been told McCain wasn't competent and that "he's not a good strong tough commander."

McCain, his father and his grandfather learned the levers of power, made White House contacts and cultivated powerful, helpful allies among important members of Congress when each of them served in a mid-career posting as the Navy's liaison to Congress, according to documents and books. While all three McCains had celebrated military careers, Johnson's intervention in Jack McCain's case fits a pattern: Records show that presidents intervened to help McCain's grandfather, John S. "Slew" McCain; Jack McCain; and McCain himself.




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