WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) softened earlier remarks that the controversy surrounding investigations into potential collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government had reached “Watergate size and scale” on Sunday.
Mr. McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an interview on Fox News Sunday said he had been referring to the way the Trump administration was managing the situation. “Now the question is, how is it handled? Is it handled the way Watergate was where it’s drip, drip, drip, every day more, or do we handle it like the—like Ronald Reagan handled Iran Contra?” he said. “It was a scandal. He fired people. He went on national television and said, we made mistakes, we did wrong and we’re not going to do it again and the American people let him move forward.”
Mr. McCain had been asked to elaborate further on comments he made at a dinner Tuesday after allegations surfaced that Mr. Trump asked then-Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey to drop a probe of former national security adviser Mike Flynn. The White House has denied the allegations. “I think it’s reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,” Mr. McCain said.
While Mr. McCain said that Mr. Trump’s firing of Mr. Comey wasn’t “a smart thing to do,” he said he didn’t know if it was necessarily an effort to impede the FBI’s investigation into Trump associates’ possible Russia ties.
The senator also didn’t directly condemn the president’s alleged comments to Russian officials that the firing had removed the pressure he faced from the FBI investigation, as reported by the New York Times on Friday.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nutjob,” Mr. Trump told Russian officials during a recent meeting in the Oval Office, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia,” Trump reportedly said. “That’s taken off.”
Mr. McCain said Sunday: “I don’t know how to read it except that—and I—I’m almost speechless because I don’t know why to—how—why someone would say something like that.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t dispute the details in the Times article but offered a different interpretation. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr. Spicer said in a statement.
Former FBI Director Comey is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee after Memorial Day.