Arizona Senator John McCain appeared confused during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with former FBI Director James Comey. McCain later blamed his confusion during the hearing on staying up late last night to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks.
At one point, the 80-year-old McCain referred to President Donald Trump as “Mr. Comey” and even said “President Comey.” McCain was asking Comey about his handling of Trump compared to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official Secretary of State business.
McCain’s questions were often incomplete thoughts. He began his time during the hearing by appearing to condemn Comey’s decision not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton even though he called her actions “careless.” McCain tried to ask Comey why he could reach a conclusion in the Clinton case, but not in the Trump case. Here’s how McCain began his line of questioning, via a KTAR transcript.
In the case of Hillary Clinton, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to bring a suit against her although it had been very careless it their behavior although you did reach a conclusion in that case that it was not necessary to further pursue her yet at the same time in the case as Mr. Comey, you said that there was not enough information to make a conclusion. Tell me the difference between your conclusion as far as former Secretary Clinton is concerned and Mr. Trump.
Comey explained that the Clinton investigation was completed, while the Trump investigation has not been. The former FBI director said that the cases are not comparable at this point and he couldn’t do the comparison because he was fired while it was still ongoing.
McCain then asked about the Clinton investigation again. Comey stressed that as of July 5, 2016, the Clinton case is closed. So when Comey came forward and announced that the FBI wouldn’t be recommending criminal charges against Clinton, the FBI investigation was already completed. McCain went on, via a KTAR transcript:
Well, at least in the mind of this member, there are a whole lot of questions remaining about what went on, particularly considering the fact that, as you mentioned it’s a ‘big deal’ as to what went on during the campaign so I’m glad you concluded that part of the investigation but I think that the American people have a whole lot of questions out there, particularly because you just emphasized the role that Russia played and, obviously, she was a candidate for president at the time, so she was clearly involved in this whole situation where fake news – as you just described it, ‘big deal’ – took place. You’re going to have to help me out here. In other words, we’re complete the investigation of anything that former Secretary Clinton had to do with the campaign is over and we don’t have to worry about it anymore?
Then, Comey said he was “confused” by where McCain was going. Comey then explained that the FBI’s criminal investigation into Clinton was about her private email server and was not related to Russia. Then, McCain said he couldn’t understand how Comey could conclude that investigation, but not have reached a conclusion in the investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election, as if the two things were tied together.
“When I was fired on May the 9th, there was still an open and active investigation to understand the Russian efforts and whether any Americans worked with them,” Comey said until McCain interrupted, again cycling back to Comey’s conclusion in the Clinton case. At this point, McCain accidentally called Comey “president Comey.”
But you reached the conclusion that there was no reason to bring charges against Secretary Clinton. So you reached a conclusion in the case of Mr. Comey – President Comey – er, President Trump you have an ongoing investigation, so you’ve got one candidate who you’re done with and another candidate that you have a long way to go, is that correct?
Comey stressed to McCain that the Russia investigation is still ongoing, as far as he knows. But McCain continued to harp on Comey calling the Clinton case a “big deal.”
What has been brought out in this hearing is more and more emphasis on the Russian engagement and involvement in this campaign. How serious do you think this was?
“Very serious,” Comey replied. Comey explained that the Russians weren’t involved with Clinton’s campaign. However, he agreed that the Russians played a role in the overall campaign as a third party. The investigation into understanding that role is ongoing.
McCain’s last question was one Comey said he couldn’t answer (via KTAR):
But you reached that conclusion as far as Secretary Clinton is concerned, but you’re not reaching a conclusion as far as this administration is concerned? Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail members of the administration?
Florida Senator Marco Rubio later commented that he “didn’t follow that line of questioning very well.”
McCain later blamed his confusing questions on staying up late to watch the Diamondbacks, who were playing in Arizona. But he later explained what he was trying to get at with his questions.
“What I was trying to get at was whether Mr. Comey believes that any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice. In the case of Secretary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Comey was willing to step beyond his role as an investigator and state his belief about what ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would conclude about the evidence. I wanted Mr. Comey to apply the same approach to the key question surrounding his interactions with President Trump—whether or not the President’s conduct constitutes obstruction of justice. While I missed an opportunity in today’s hearing, I still believe this question is important, and I intend to submit it in writing to Mr. Comey for the record.”
McCain, a Vietnam War veteran who was a prisoner of war, has been in the Senate since 1987. Back in 2013, he hinted at retiring in 2016, but he decided not to and ran for re-election in November. He was easily re-elected with 53.7 percent of the vote. Just a few weeks ago, he said the Russia scandal was reaching “Watergate size.”