Did McCain Torpedo JD Hayworth?

Former Congressman JD Hayworth is reportedly considering a primary challenge to John McCain. In explaining his rationale recently, he made a serious allegation about McCain’s loyalty to party:

Hayworth charged that in 2005 Salter tried to “blackmail” him into stopping his public criticism of McCain’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill. Hayworth said his chief of staff got an e-mail from Salter indicating that McCain might retaliate by commenting in the media about Hayworth’s links to the then-unfolding Jack Abramoff lobbyist corruption scandal.

Hayworth further suggested that Salter was responsible for planting false information in the Washington Times that said Hayworth was the “target” of an Abramoff-related Justice Department investigation. The Abramoff scandal helped Democrat Harry Mitchell upset Hayworth in 2006.

“Now do I know for a fact that Mark Salter was that unnamed source? No, I don’t,” Hayworth told his listeners. “But could a reasonable person connect the dots after, to be polite you could call it a threat, to be more realistic you could call it a threat of blackmail, in that memorandum?”

Salter denies the charge, but both he and McCain have been known for a shoot-from-the-hip style, and a willingness to alienate GOP colleagues. McCain in particular has been prone to explode when dealing with Republican opponents of his immigration reform ideas. Would it really be a surprise if the man who considered a party switch in 2001, and who contemplated becoming Kerry’s vice presidential candidate in 2004, and who attacked Republican colleagues over immigration – had also threatened a Republican colleague over it?

Hayworth was a solid conservative who held a GOP-leaning seat for 12 years. He was ultimately cleared by the Department of Justice in December, 2007 – slightly more than a year after he was defeated for re-election, largely because of questions regarding his supposed ‘links’ to Abramoff.

If McCain contributed to that narrow loss, he ought to answer for it.

Update: It’s come to my attention that JD Hayworth has previously published the text of the E-mail his Chief of Staff received from McCain aide Mark Salter. Judge for yourself if McCain was trying to blackmail Hayworth:

As you can guess, much consternation over here about your boss’s quick attack on a bill [ the McCain-Kennedy Amnesty Bill] we’ve been working on for months, in the most arduous discussions, and we think, managed to arrive at a very good product with a broad constituency behind it, not to mention three of your boss’ delegation members.

Obviously, the attack occurred before anyone has even seen the bill. At best, it was discourteous, and we took it quite personally.

FYI: We’ve been inundated with press requests to comment on your boss’s Abrahamoff, sky box, etc. situation. We’ve refused them. I think you should be prepared for that to change.

Salter says after he sent this E-mail, he got an angry E-mail back and ‘that was the end of it.’ A news search shows that stories about Hayworth and Abramoff increased significantly after this point, but that doesn’t prove anything.