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McCain Explains Iffy Performance During Comey Hearing

Television viewers were confused and concerned when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took his turn to question former FBI Director James Comey Thursday — and McCain has now responded.

The senator started his questioning of Comey by walking through the timeline of the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails, which Comey confirmed was closed in July, and then asked how the FBI could have concluded that matter while the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was ongoing.

"I'm a little confused, Senator," was Comey's response.

McCain went on: "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 to affect the outcome of our election."

The Arizona Republican, serving his sixth term in the Senate, seemed to conflate the investigation of Clinton's emails and the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Making matters worse, McCain then referred to President Trump as President Comey.

It did not go unnoticed by those watching.

Nor did his fellow senators necessarily follow along.

In response to the outcry on social media, McCain released a statement Thursday afternoon:

"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."

The Arizona Diamondbacks played the San Diego Padres Wednesday night in Phoenix. The game began quite late for those in Washington — 9:40 p.m. ET.

But the silver lining for McCain is that the Diamondbacks won, 7-4.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Arnie Seipel is the Deputy Washington Editor for NPR. He oversees daily news coverage of politics and the inner workings of the federal government. Prior to this role, he edited politics coverage for seven years, leading NPR's reporting on the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. In between campaigns, Seipel edited coverage of Congress and the White House, and he coordinated coverage of major events including State of the Union addresses, Supreme Court confirmations and congressional hearings.