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. Fool me thrice??

    "The CIA did not tell the truth....." Imagine my surprise.....

    December 15, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  2. Il

    Oh boy, reading all this just makes me sick. What a bunch of jingoistic psychopaths our government is. Its really stunning.

    December 15, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. KEVIN

    I'm surprised McCain took this position. He is a strong advocate of our military and CIA. There is something fishy about this Levinson family. They have demonstrated that they have profound political power. They are the ones who should be investigated. Perhaps it would be best for the press to do this.

    December 15, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  4. W8a2nd

    McCain, instead of taking a vacation in the Ukraine you should be in prison for wasting $350 billion taxpayer dollars on your Savings and Loan debacle. And take you friend Greenspan with you. Another traitor who bankrupted America.

    December 15, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  5. the village idiot

    my father was in the cia for 22 years as an noc, he was a well trained professional liar, working for other well trained professional liars.

    how on earth is the president and congress expect the truth out of an organization, a self serving bureauacracy made up of well trained professional liars?

    December 15, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  6. bob from SC

    It could be a double edged sword….if the CIA admitted he was a spy, then his fate might be sealed. By keeping quiet or denying, then maybe they would keep him alive longer?

    December 15, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  7. ug

    And Mccan't is some sort of angel herself? please...

    December 15, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. KEVIN

    There is something fishy about this Levinson family. The media should look into them and their political connections.

    December 15, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. Hadenuffyet

    Retire ...please.

    December 15, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  10. Dennis smith

    Putting Congress in control of our intelligence agencies is a scary thought with nut jobs like Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann holding seats. Until the House and Senate are again filled with responsible members, leave the intelligence agencies as free of their influence as possible. McCain sounds like someone searching for attention. As soon as he gets (what he believes) is some accurate inside info he runs to the media and regurgitates it like as if he is an authority.

    December 15, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  11. Michael Hardman

    Again McCain is sticking his nose into the ukrain. What is it with the Americans. Sort your school murders out first.

    December 15, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. veep

    " maybe it means that we should be examining the oversight role of Congress over our different intelligence agencies."

    ...pretty sure you were part of the gang saying we needed all this to 'keep us safe', Mr. McCain.

    gonna weasel out of responsibility and accountability for this too?!

    sure you are...

    go hide in one of your seven Beer Money Houses.

    December 15, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  13. lean6

    To just nonchalantly admit that he "exaggerated" in characterization of President Obama's handshake with Raul Castro just illustrates how dangerous and deranged John McCain really is...if anybody needed any further proof beyond his history of behavior.

    December 15, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  14. Tell the Truth

    McCain is right on two counts:
    [1] Under Obama America is regarded globally as weak
    [2] Putin needs to be watched!
    He was masterful in his handling of Syria. I can't stand the man but he makes Obama look even MORE inept – if that was possible.

    December 15, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  15. cbp

    Sen McCain is another hotspot urging American involvement. If we were to go everywhere in the world that Senator McCain has been urging our involvement we would stretch our resources to the limit. At this point our military people have been deployed 3, 4, 5, times over the last 10 years. Military families have made huge sacrifices for this country and the military involvements we have engaged in. Those who continue to urge involvement need to sign up for the military and to urge others to do the same so that we have enough people to deploy into these battle zones.

    I fully recommend that members of Congress do the same. Before you send one more troop be sure that you have done your part. To those who are pushing for involvement I would recommend that you join up as well. Please do not ask others to get involved when you would not do so. There are many ways to serve and our freedom depends upon our willingness to help/.

    December 15, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  16. airjackie

    McCain knew all about Levinson's mission as the CIA was run for the CO-President Dick Cheney. Memory lost for McCain but facts don't change. Covert CIA Agent working in Iran had her name exposed by Dick Cheney and Cheney had Scooter Libby take the fall. 2/3's of US Covert Agents resigned for fear the White House would expose their ID for political reasons as Cheney wanted his lie about Iraq to work for the support of the American people. Remember Cheney said Bin Laden trained in Iraq and Saddam had Nuclear Weapons and a Mushroom Cloud. McCain worked on the Intelligence Committee and knew what Cheney had ordered and who he paid to spy. Like the Bush Administration and Republicans did to the American people they did the same thing to the people they asked to spy and paid well to do it. There are many more paid US spies hired during that time and we were told by former Agents it would not go well because it takes at lease 15 years to train for that type of job. McCain knew he promised to bomb Iran when elected President and the spies would have gotten out. Now it's all about Obama and if Iran is smart they will move on with Peace talks with the United Nations because the US Intelligence Senate is full with lies and crooks.

    December 15, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  17. gustifer53

    There is only one thing that McCain should be talking about and that is his RETIREMENT...No more No less...That's it McCain, GOODBYE!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 15, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  18. jimatmad

    Mr McCain started going loopy before the 2008 debacle, and has only gotten worse.

    His family needs to gently lead him off of the public stage.

    December 15, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |

    McCain, on these points, knows what he's talking about. I don't usually agree with him.
    For those of you who don't understand what an opposition party is & what it means to oppose a sitting president. I suggest you actually pick up a history book & read it.
    That said, he would have made a terrible president, not much better than the thing in the White House.

    December 15, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  20. jimatmad

    Okay, now that we've heard from the Doddering Coot wing of the GOP, does anybody else have anything?

    December 15, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  21. matt

    wow. Can't imagine C.I.A would lie..Im totally surprised

    December 15, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  22. hahahaha

    The CIA ain't about telling the truth. We're not running a boy scout camp at Langley.

    December 15, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  23. tweety bird

    Good for you admitting you were wrong. I'm not a fan, but I admire an admission of "misspeaking".

    December 15, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  24. law a joke one sided

    More oversight needed of all Law and U.S. agencies

    December 15, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  25. soul68

    Isn't this the guy who so eloquently stated about the Iraq war that we would "win it by winning it".

    And people question his mental capability.

    December 15, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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