Via the McCain Report blog, McCain Deputy Communications Director Michael Goldfarb now concedes that John McCain was not in a "cone of silence" at the Saddleback Church as Rick Warren, and therefore the nation, had been led to believe:
The facts are that Senator McCain was in a motorcade led by the United States Secret Service and held in a green room with no broadcast feed.
(Edit: Note that it is totally irrelevant that McCain was with the Secret Service. They go with him wherever he goes. Goldfarb is just mentioning to make it seem like there was a good reason for McCain to break his pledge.)
Goldfarb doesn't expand on those details, but it turns out that McCain finally arrived about thirty minutes into the event. (As Nate Silver reports, Rick Warren confirmed this on CNN. I've posted the video at the bottom of this entry.)
Goldfarb makes a big point of saying the green room had no broadcast feed, but that is beside the point.
McCain had agreed to be in a cone of silence. He broke his promise. Because of that fact, we will probably never know whether or not McCain had any advance notice of the questions.
The whole idea of the "cone of silence" was to avoid this sort of crisis of confidence. It really doesn't matter what McCain was or was not told. Rules are rules, and they exist so that everybody can trust the fairness of the process.
McCain wants us to simply take on faith that he didn't cheat, but the fact is that by his own campaign's admission, he broke the rules.
Goldfarb's spin on this is rather brilliant. He plays a magic trick, trying to focus attention on who "won" the forum. Of course, he thinks that McCain "won," and therefore casts the outrage at McCain's rulebreaking as "sour grapes."
But I will again make this simple point: the issue isn't whether or not McCain broke the rules so he could cheat, it's that by breaking the rules he cast a shadow over the whole process.
It's just like his relationship with his top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann. Scheunemann has received $800,000 from the government of Georgia, and until March worked for them. Because of that, whether or not his advice is right, there is a cloud of suspicion over the McCain campaign.
What we're now learning is that the McCain campaign thinks they play by different rules than anybody else.
They don't have that right. Nobody does.
Update 1: I'm uploading video now from CNN which has (a) Rick Warren saying that he believed McCain was on site when he announced that McCain was in a cone of silence; (b) has both Rick Warren and Rick Sanchez accepting McCain's promise that he didn't listen to the question on the basis of his word; and (c) has the McCain campaign again confirming that McCain was not on site for the first half of the broadcast.
Again, the issue here isn't really whether or not McCain actually heard the questions. The issue is that he promised to follow a set of rules, and he broke that promise. In the process, he threw Rick Warren under the bus, because he caused Rick Warren to make a false statement. (Who hasn't McCain thrown under the bus, by the way?)
That fact that the McCain campaign's response is "well, he didn't listen in" and that Warren accepted that that uncritically is quite disappointing. Again, the key issue here is that McCain broke his word on a commitment he made, putting not just his own integrity on the line, but the integrity of the entire forum.