BETWEEN THE LINES
When Ross Perot Calls…
The former presidential candidate blasts John McCain, and gets an education about Barack Obama's religion.
The phone rang and it was Ross Perot, who hasn't given an interview in years. Perot, who won 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential election, making him one of the strongest third-party candidates in American history, got straight to the point.
The Texas billionaire, now 77, still has some scores to settle from the Vietnam era, and his timing is exquisite. Just days before the South Carolina GOP primary, he wants me to know that McCain "is the classic opportunist--he's always reaching for attention and glory. Other POWs won't even sit at the same table with him."
Mark Salter, McCain's longtime top aide, says the Arizona senator has plenty of veteran support and many close friendships among other former POWs.
The Perot-McCain relationship goes back to McCain's five and a half years of captivity in Hanoi. When McCain's then-wife Carol was in a serious car accident, McCain's mother called Perot for help. "She asked me to send my people to Philadelphia to take care of the family," Perot says. Afterwards, McCain was grateful. "We loved him [Perot] for it," McCain told me in 2000.
Perot doesn't remember it that way. "After he came home, he walked with a limp, she [Carol McCain] walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona [Cindy McCain, his current wife] and the rest is history."
Perot's real problem with McCain is that he believes the senator hushed up evidence that live POWs were left behind in Vietnam and even transferred to the Soviet Union for human experimentation, a charge Perot says he heard from a senior Vietnamese official in the 1980s. "There's evidence, evidence, evidence," Perot claims. "McCain was adamant about shutting down anything to do with recovering POWs."