December 15th, 2013
11:49 AM ET
9 years ago

McCain: CIA did not tell Congress the truth about Levinson

Updated 12:38 p.m. ET, 12/15/2013

(CNN) - Sen. John McCain joined CNN's "State of the Union" from Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday after the Arizona Republican addressed thousands of protesters who are angry over the Ukrainian government's decision to backpedal away from an agreement with the European Union.

McCain spoke about a range of issues happening around the globe, and suggested the Central Intelligence Agency was not truthful to Congress about former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who went missing in Iran seven years ago.

Here are five noteworthy points from the interview.

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1) McCain: More oversight needed of U.S. intelligence agencies

McCain said he was "confident we are doing everything that we can" to get former FBI agent Bob Levinson released from Iran, where he went missing seven years ago.

But the senator said he was disturbed at recent reports that Levinson was in fact working for the CIA in Iran, not conducting private business as officials have previously claimed.

"What disturbs me is apparently they did not tell the truth to the Congress. The CIA did not tell the truth to the American Congress about Mr. Levinson," he said. "If that's true, then you put this on top of things that our intelligence committees didn't know about other activities, which have been revealed by (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden - maybe it means that we should be examining the oversight role of Congress over our different intelligence agencies."

He added that any negotiations in Levinson's case should also include attempts to free other Americans who are believed to be in Iranian custody.

McCain also weighed in on the interim deal reached with international powers and Iran on the country's nuclear program. In exchange for easing of sanctions, Iran agreed to slow its nuclear development program as the world powers continue talks for another six months.

He said he thinks it's "very likely" the Senate will have a bill that restores some sanctions against Iran at the end of the six months if there's no result in further negotiations to dismantle Iran's program.

2) McCain says Putin is meddling

There's a political tug of war going on in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, with the western part of the country at odds with the eastern part – which is more closely aligned with Russia - over a failed deal with the European Union.

Last month, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did not sign a trade agreement with the European Union, choosing instead closer economic ties with Moscow. The move sparked mass protests, with thousands pouring into the capital city, furious over the government's sharp turnaround from previous efforts to better integrate with Europe.

McCain showed up this weekend, along with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, to express support.

"This is a grass-roots revolution here," McCain told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. "It's been peaceful, except for when the government tried to crack down on them, and the government hasn't done that since. But I am praising their ability and their desire to demonstrate peacefully for change that I think they deserve."

Protesters say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion. They accuse Yanukovych of preparing to take the country into a Moscow-led customs union.

Moscow has leverage that may have affected Yanukovych's decision last month to backpedal on the EU talks because Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas.

McCain, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the recent pressure on Ukraine is one more example of Putin asserting his power in other countries.

there's no doubt that Ukraine is of vital importance to Vladimir Putin. One of - I think it was Kissinger, I'm not sure, said that Russian without Ukraine is an Eastern power; with Ukraine it's a Western power.

"This is the beginning of Russia. It was right here in Kiev," McCain said. "So Putin views it as the most highly important, and he has put pressure on Ukrainians. The price of energy, different kinds of activities, and the word is very clear that he has made certain threats. Whether he would carry those through or not, I don't know."

McCain also said Putin "is now a player in the Middle East, which he has not been since 1973," adding Putin is "realizing, thanks to our weakness, some of his ambitions."

Given that the U.S. is trying to work on a deal with Russia to remove Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, Crowley asked McCain whether it was a good time to be taking on Russia.

"I don't think that we would be taking on Russia," McCain replied. "Look, these people (the protesters) love the United States of America, they love freedom, and I don't think you could view this as anything but our traditional support for people who want a free and democratic society."

"We're not talking about military action," he continued. "We're not talking about blockades. We're talking about the possibility of sanctions if they continue to brutally repress their people. That would require some action on our part, just because that's what the United States of America is all about."

3) 'Plead guilty'

McCain admitted Sunday he exaggerated when he compared President Obama's handshake last week with Cuban President Raul Castro to a handshake between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler at the start of World War II.

"I'm sure it was an exaggeration, Candy," he said. "If you want me to plead guilty here on CNN - guilty."

Obama faced a wave of criticism following his warm, though brief, greeting with Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.

"I think it was gross exaggeration," McCain said of the comparison. "But have no doubt that (the handshake) is of great propaganda value for the Cuban government, which is oppressive, repressive, continues to jail dissidents and continues to be one of the - probably easily the most repressive government in our hemisphere."

"I don't think you should shake hands with someone who continues to violate his own country's human rights," he continued. "It happened. But it is what it is. And I'm sure that Mr. Castro appreciated it."

The White House said the handshake was not preplanned, and officials pointed to Obama's comments in his speech that urged freedom in dictatorial societies.

4) McCain will vote for the budget bill

McCain said Sunday he'll vote for a compromise budget bill that would prevent another government shutdown.

"I hope it will pass the Senate," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We must not shut down the government again. We can't do that to the people of this country and my state."

The House approved the measure last week, but many GOP senators, raising a variety of concerns, are expected to vote against the bill. Despite their opposition, a few Republicans, including McCain, may help push the bill through the Senate.

Senate expected to pass budget bill – narrowly

McCain said he has spoken with military leaders who approve the deal because it "gives them relief from the harsh effects of sequestration."

Crowley asked if McCain would vote for the budget package as long as it stays the same.

"Yes," McCain said.

Final congressional approval would mark a rare win for bipartisanship and a step up for a Congress infected with political dysfunction and held in low public esteem, with midterm elections less than a year off.

5) 'This must be a huge embarrassment for China'

The execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle shows that the young North Korea leader is "dangerous," McCain said, noting the country's nuclear capabilities.

Because Jang Song Thaek, Kim's uncle by marriage, was believed to be a key figure in North Korea and a liaison between North Korea and China, McCain argued "this must be a huge embarrassment for China."

"It's very obvious this young man is capable of some very aberrational behavior, and given the toys that he has, I think it's very dangerous," McCain continued. "And you would think that the Chinese would understand that as well. They've got to rein this young man in, and they can."

- CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Susanna Capelouto, Ted Barrett, Jethro Mullen, Tom Watkins, Susan Candiotti, and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

Filed under: Iran • John McCain • North Korea • Russia • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for the five point explanations. However, McCain could have said all of this and more without
    spending our money, travelling to Kiev, and putting on a show by addressing "thousands of prostesters".

    He managed to bash Putin and added a little more bashing on the President, ie "Putin is realizing, thanks
    to our weakness..............."

    Senator McCain, stay home. Your ego is big enough, your common sense needs work.

    December 15, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  2. Just

    Term limits anyone?

    December 15, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  3. OnTheRoad

    McCain needs to get back on his meds and get back to the home for the aged!

    December 15, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  4. Pj1009

    Find it hard to understand why the media continues to use McCain's judgement – have we forgotten his judgement stated Sarah Palin was his choice for the person most qualified to be president – other than he of course

    December 15, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  5. Larry L

    McCain has never recovered from losing the bid for the Presidency. Now it appears he wants to be Secretary of State and/or Secretary of Defense. Maybe he should stop stretching his committee jobs and take a look at what Arizona needs.

    December 15, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  6. theoriginaljames

    More from the hot airbag. One story a day should be sufficient. Please.

    December 15, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  7. jb1963

    Please John retire already.

    December 15, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. Bertha

    Why does McCain get so much press? His selection of Palin for his ruining mate in 2008 and his continued show of support and admiration of her makes him as someone not to believed. Before his selection I, as a democrat thought highly of him. Since then he is someone I will never have esteem for again.

    December 15, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. scranton somebody else exaggerated about a healthcare program that allowed one to keep his/her insurance. They are politicians, of course the exaggerate.

    December 15, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  10. John Tater

    Too bad McCain endorses Snowden, who has done great damage by giving most sensitive secrets to foreign governments, a high crime. When the liberal love affair with Snowden is over, we will be left with a much weakened country. But then McCain is given to a little "aberrational" behavior himself. (See Palin)

    December 15, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  11. labman57

    How dare Obama respect and honor Mandela's memory by behaving civilly at late anti-Apartheid leader's funeral.
    Everyone knows that political posturing is far more important - it's how Americans publicly demonstrate our "exceptionalism" to the world.

    Time for Johnny-boy to bust out another rendition of "Bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb Iran", because that was simply hysterical when he sang it the first time.

    December 15, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  12. ThomasE

    Here goes McWar again insulting other countries and our president in the same breath; nevermind his neocon ways in meddling in other countries private affairs. Thand goodness he never became president or else we would be in world war 12 with 97 other countries.

    December 15, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  13. Pablo695

    McSame – still as useless as ever...

    December 15, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  14. PSYmuffin

    From the poster child for term limits.......does anyone care what this war monger says?

    December 15, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. Larry B.

    When is this man going to retire? The only thing I learned from this article is that it confirms just how senile and out of touch McCain is. It seems he speaks only for his out of touch self and not America.

    December 15, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Syd Chaden

    McCain says that he may exaggerate occasionally. Exaggeration is barely noticeable in a Government, meaning Congress and the White House, which routinely lies. Excuse me, "misspeaks". McCain is fearless in his commentary, but he is also forgetful, which sometimes leads to confusion over which political party he subscribes to. The nation should give thanks to McCain for his many years of service, military and in government, and McCain should graciously accept the thanks and retire to enjoy his old age, during which exaggeration and forgetfulness are quite acceptable.

    December 15, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  17. BeverlyNC

    McCain cannot be trusted. One minute he speaks with sanity and the leadership a Senator should and the next he is as extremist and unreasonable as his Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. He promises President Obama support and then the next day criticizes the President for the very thing McCain had publically agreed to do.
    He is no longer a man of his word and his leadership should have been seriously questioned when he put an un-vetted, uneducated about American history or foreign policy (or even the geography of foreign nations) up as a VP candidate. Palin was the one who introduced "birtherism" into the campaign, bigotry, and outrageous lies that has led to an era of hatred we have not seen in this nation since the late 1960s. McCain did and said nothing against it as it went on even though he was a victim of intense racism by Bush during a primary year.
    I ignore McCain. He and Lindsey Graham and that whole generation of what used to be moderate and willing to govern leaders have lost all credibility. They have betrayed the People, in desperate and unethical grabs for power, since none can get elected on ideas, solutions or a platform which does not exist.

    December 15, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  18. Gary

    The Ukraine, gotta go a long way to find someone who will listen to you. No one here in America does, except Candy.

    December 15, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. bob the buil

    1 term limits for everyone. Give everone 5 years and then get the hell out. No reason for either party canidates to stay 20 years or more.

    December 15, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  20. Dwayne

    Why do we make big deals out of everything?

    December 15, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  21. tony

    Can you just imagine the bloodbath mess we'd be in in Syria, if He and Bachmann had won the Election

    December 15, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  22. sammy750

    Wow, the CIA must be like the Republicans LIE and not tell the truth. OMG, is the CIA run by the Republicans?

    December 15, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. James Moore

    Duh! We are a nation of liars and the CIA is supposed to be the best at it. That's how you keep secrets. DUH!

    December 15, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  24. mac101

    "Apparently the CIA did not tell the truth." Gee, that's never happened before.

    December 15, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  25. Dr Tod Policandriotes

    The CIA is a spy organization and do they ever tell the truth completely? They lie for a living and their lives are lies, so why would anyone expect them to be truthful about anything outside or maybe even inside their own office. Some people think this is the ONLY way we can gather intelligence and I would have to say they are wrong and walk around with blinders on their heads.

    December 15, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
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