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McCain vows to keep nose inside Samaranch's tent

WASHINGTON -- Ask Sen. John McCain how he gets along with the boss of the Olympics, and the leading congressional critic of the Salt Lake scandal spits out an answer that is half resignation, half disgust.

Despite a personal letter requesting monthly updates, McCain said he has yet to hear from International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch."Nah!" McCain said with a sardonic laugh when asked if Samaranch had complied.

This isn't the first time the two powerful leaders have failed to get together. Samaranch snubbed McCain's request to testify at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing into the Olympic scandal last April.

"I sometimes get the impression that our attentions are not entirely welcome," the Arizona Republican said in an interview.

Despite the lack of cooperation and repeated IOC complaints that he's stepping into something that is not his concern, McCain said he is not going away from the Olympic mess, not even while balancing a plate that also holds Republican leadership on the Kosovo crisis and a run for the White House.

"I've been watching with interest," he said of the IOC's initial attempts at reform. "Being attacked from time to time for, quote 'interfering' with their work. In fact, some have accused me of destroying Western civilization as we know it."

McCain said he keeps up to date with monthly reports from U.S. Olympic Committee president Bill Hybl, IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz and conversations with Olympic community leaders such as NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol and Dick Pound, an IOC vice president from Canada.

He also planned to talk with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a member of the IOC's chief reform panel.

"And then," McCain said, "watch with care."

Pound, who was not asked to testify at the April hearing despite leading the IOC's own investigation of corruption, traveled to Washington shortly thereafter to see the senator.

"It was at his request," McCain said. "It was more a conversation in which he attempted to assure me that they were following the Mitchell commission and that they understood how important the issue was. It was as much a courtesy information as anything else."

The USOC corruption inquiry headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell continues to set the pace of action for McCain, who literally holds the financial fate of the IOC in his hands.

His Senate Commerce Committee has pending legislation that would strip the IOC's tax-exempt status in the United States, limit the tax deductions of IOC sponsorships and -- most forcefully -- direct all U.S. TV rights fees to the USOC rather than the IOC, depriving the international panel of its single biggest revenue source.

Mitchell, who said this month that the IOC appeared to be making some progress toward changing what he called a "culture of improper gift giving," recommended that McCain hold off legislative action until the end of the year, when reforms are promised. McCain agreed.

"I will try to reserve judgment and reserve any further comment until we can get a real good sense about the end of the year," he said.

In the meantime, McCain added, he will be interested in legislation now before the Senate Banking Committee that would extend the Federal Corrupt Practices Act to bribing of Olympic officials.

He also will be aware of the need to help the focus of the Olympics swing back to the athletes, without giving up the corruption hunt.

"Try to maintain balance," the senator said. "Try not to indulge in demagoguery. Try not to engage in reckless statements that may be harmful to these young people. Express our appreciation.

"But at the same time keeping in mind we have the obligation to make sure there is thorough reform in the movement."