Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is an ex oficio member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, concluded Thursday’s questioning of former FBI Director James Comey. McCain brought up the FBI’s decision to close its yearlong investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server last July, then observed that the investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is still ongoing. McCain then argued that this constituted a “double standard” for reasons that were not entirely clear. While pundit Megan McArdle notes that some Trump partisans believe that Comey rushed through the Clinton email investigation while artificially extending the Russia investigation to cause Trump political harm, what McCain actually suggested Thursday—in disjointed fashion—is that Clinton’s investigation should be part of the Russia inquiry. Verbatim:
MCCAIN: I think that the American people have a whole lot of questions out there, particularly since you just emphasized the role that Russia played. And obviously, [Clinton] 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 a campaign is over and we don’t have to worry about it anymore?
COMEY: I’m a little confused, Senator. With respect to Secretary Clinton, we investigated a criminal investigation in connection with her use of a personal email server.
MCCAIN: I understand.
COMEY: And that’s the investigation I announced the conclusion of on July 5.
MCCAIN: But at the same time, you made the announcement there would be no charges brought against, then, Secretary Clinton for any activities involved in the Russia involvement in our, engagement in our, election. I don’t quite understand how you could be done with that but not done with the whole investigation of their attempt to affect the outcome of the our election.
COMEY: We have not announced, and there was no predication to announce, an investigation of whether the Russians may have coordinated with Secretary Clinton’s campaign.
MCCAIN: They may not have been involved with her campaign—they were involved with the entire presidential campaign, obviously.
COMEY: Of course. Yes, sir. And that is an investigation that began last summer and so far as I’m aware continues.
MCCAIN: So both President Trump and former candidate Clinton are both involved in the investigation, yet one of them you said there’s going to be no charges and the other one that the investigation continues. Well, I think there’s a double standard there to tell you the truth.
Needless to say, it does not seem necessary for the FBI to investigate whether Hillary Clinton conspired with Russian intelligence operatives to sabotage her own campaign. Said Florida Sen. and committee member Marco Rubio of the exchange after the hearing: “I didn’t follow that line of questioning very well, to be honest with you.”
Update, 2:50 p.m.: McCain has issued a statement that clarifies things (somewhat).
I get the sense from Twitter that my line of questioning today went over people’s heads. Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games.
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.