Fact Check

Did John McCain Solicit a Campaign Contribution from the Russian Government?

A letter sent to the Russian envoy in 2008 soliciting campaign contributions was an apparent error.

Published Feb. 23, 2017

 (Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com)
Image courtesy of Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com
John McCain solicited campaign contributions from Russia.

In late February 2017, a host of questionable web sites began reporting the document-dumping web site WikiLeaks had revealed the "breaking" news that Arizona Sen. John McCain had once solicited a campaign contribution from the Russian government:

Is it all over for John McCain? He has been attacking Trump non stop since the election was over, but it looks like McCain in the one that should be getting scrutinized.

A just released WikiLeaks document revealed John McCain is a CRIMINAL TRAITOR! The document shows Senator McCain begging the Russians for illegal campaign donations in 2008.

The document shared by WikiLeaks was a purported letter from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations claiming to have received a solicitation for a campaign contribution from the Arizona Republican in 2008, when McCain was running for President against President Barack Obama:

Despite the document's being characterized by various blogs as "breaking" or a "bombshell," it had been released by WikiLeaks back in October 2008, described as a public document released for possible political motives:

Wikileaks staff have verified the authenticity of the document. Obviously the statement is designed to undermine the McCain campaign and is an extremely interesting Russian intervention into US domestic politics. It remains to be seen whether the play, which lacks subtlety, will backfire and generate support for McCain.

According to the document metadata (which can be manipulated, though rarely is), the document was created by "INT10", underwent two revisions and was saved by "INT9" with a version of word is registered to organization "MID". Although Wikileaks normally removes metadata, we have not done so in this instance since the document is intended to be public and may be a significant political play by Russian intelligence.

It is unlawful for foreign entities to contribute to U.S. elections and for Americans to knowingly facilitate such contributions. (Not to mention that it would be incredibly foolish for a U.S. official to solicit illegal foreign donations in such an openly traceable manner.)

In a 2008 report published by the Associated Press, McCain's campaign manager Brian Rogers said the solicitation was sent to Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin by accident. Churkin (who passed away on 20 February 2017) told reporters that the letter was not addressed to him using his official title, leading him to believe it was sent to him unintentionally:

The McCain campaign's fundraising letter, dated Sept. 29, did not use Churkin's formal title. That led Churkin to conclude the request stemmed from "a computer failure" by McCain's campaign, Bakhtin said.

Bakhtin emphasized, too, that the "Russian authorities are in no way engaged in funding political campaigns or political activities abroad." He said the mission had not sent any direct reply to the McCain campaign.

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the campaign, said yesterday that he was unable to pinpoint what had caused the blunder.

"It sounds like they might have been sent to the wrong place. We obviously don't solicit campaign contributions from people who aren't able to contribute," he said.

The discussion regarding the now years-old story seems to have been kicked up anew by a tweet sent from the official WikiLeaks Twitter account on 23 February 2017:

We reached out to WikiLeaks for comment on why they shared the old link but received no response, while Fox News pundit Sean Hannity apologized to McCain over Twitter for sharing a story on the subject posted by disreputable web site TheGateWayPundit.com:

Hannity's apology came after McCain's spokeswoman, Julie Tarallo, criticized him for sharing "fake news."


AngryPatriotMovement.com.   "WikiLeaks Drops MAJOR Criminal Bombshell About John McCain. Should He Be Prosecuted?"     23 February 2017.

WikiLeaks.   "Russian Mission on Fundraising Letter from John McCain Election Campaign, 20 Oct 2008."     20 October 2008.

The Associated Press.   "Russians Get McCain Donor Letter in Mix-Up."     20 October 2008.

Concha, Joe.   "Hannity Apologizes for Sharing 'Inaccurate' Story About McCain."     The Hill.   23 February 2017.

Gold, Matea.   "Donald Trump Keeps Asking Foreign Leaders for Money. The Latest: Vicente Fox."     The Washington Post.   26 September 2016.

Code of Federal Regulations.   "Prohibition on Contributions, Donations, Expenditures, Independent Expenditures, and Disbursements by Foreign Nationals."

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.