There were plenty of eyebrow-raising moments within the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey Thursday, but the questioning of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stirred a different kind of response: confusion and concern.
At the crux of his questions, it seems McCain didn’t understand why the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server was a closed case, but the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia was still open. Comey tried to make the point that both were two completely separate investigations.
The disjointed and scattered questions and statements by McCain, including calling Comey “President Comey,” and then correcting himself, had some speculating about his health and his age, but mostly just prompted confusion. “McCain” quickly started trending on Twitter.
McCain put out a statement on his line of questioning shortly after the hearing concluded, saying he “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,” McCain said. “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.”
Here’s the full text of the exchange between McCain and Comey:
McCain: In the case of Hillary Clinton, you made the statement that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to bring a suit against her although it had been very careless in their behavior. But 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 of 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: Well, the Clinton investigation was a completed investigation that the FBI had been deeply involved in. So had I an opportunity to understand all the facts and apply those facts against the laws as I understood them. This investigation was underway, still going, when I was fired. So it’s nowhere near in the same place, at least it wasn’t when I was –
McCain: But it’s still ongoing.
Comey: Correct, so far as I know. It was when I left.
McCain: That investigation was going on, this investigation was going on. You reach separate conclusions.
Comey: No, that one was done.
McCain: That investigation of any involvement of Secretary Clinton or any of her associates is completed?
Comey: Yes, as of July 5th, the FBI completed its investigative work and that’s what I was announcing: what we had done and what we had found.
McCain: Well, at least in the minds of this member, there’s a whole lot of questions remaining about what went on, particularly considering the fact that as you mentioned, as the a “big deal” as to what went on during the campaign. So I’m glad you concluded that part of the investigation, but I – 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, 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 on 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: With respect to – I’m a little confused. With respect to Secretary Clinton, we investigated in connection with her use of a personal email server.
McCain: I understand.
Comey: That’s the investigation I announced the conclusion of on July 5th.
McCain: So, 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: No, I’m sorry. We’re not at least when I left when I was fired on May 9th, there was still an open investigation to understand the Russian efforts and whether any Americans worked with them.
McCain: But you reached the conclusion there was no reason to bring charges against Secretary Clinton. So you reached a conclusion in the case of Mr. Comey, the President Comey, in the case of President Trump, you have an ongoing investigation. So you got one candidate who you’re done with and another candidate that you have a long way to go. Is that correct?
Comey: I don’t know how far the FBI has to go, but yes. That the Clinton email investigation was completed. The investigation of Russia’s efforts in connection with the election and whether there was any coordination and if so with whom between Russia and the campaign was ongoing when I left.
McCain: You just made it clear this was a big deal, unquote. I think it’s hard to reconcile one case you reach a complete conclusion and the other side you have not. And you’ve, in fact, obviously, there’s a lot more there as we know as you called a “big deal.” She’s one of the candidates but in her case, you say, there would be no charges and in the case of President Trump, the investigation continues. 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?
Comey: Very serious. But I want to say something to be clear. 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. Secretary Clinton’s campaign–
McCain: But 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. Then when the president said to you, you talked about the April 11th phone call, and he said quote, because I’ve been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know. Did that arouse your curiosity as to quote, that thing, was?
McCain: Why didn’t you ask him?
Comey: It didn’t seem to be to be important for the conversation we were having to understand it. I took it to be some – an effort to communicate to me in that there is a relationship between us where “I’ve been good to you, you should be good to me.”
McCain: Yeah, but I think it would intensely arouse my curiosity if the president of the United States said “that thing,” you know. I’d like to know what the hell “that thing” is, particularly if I’m the head of the FBI.
Comey: What I concluded at the time is that, in his memory, he was searching back to our encounter at the dinner and was preparing himself to say, “I offered loyalty to you. You promised loyalty to me,” and all of a sudden his memory showed him that did not happen and I think he pulled up short. That’s just a guess. I have had a lot of conversations with humans over the years.
McCain: I think I would have had some curiosity if it had been me, to be honest with you. Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that the president or the members of the administration or members of the campaign that could potentially be used to coerce or blackmail the administration?
Comey: That’s a subject for investigations, not something I can comment on sitting here.
McCain: But you reached that conclusion as far as Secretary Clinton was 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 the administration?
Comey: That’s not a question I can answer, senator.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.: The senator’s time has expired.