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. Evelyn Connaway

    We will never have peace around the globe, with republicans politicians – both federal and state, roaming around the world to different countries, blabbing their mouths, complaining about the affairs in our country and other peoples countries. They are dangerous and should have their passports removed. They should have to have permission from the president to be able to go outside the USA. John McCain is just a big mouth, who has nothing of value to say.

    December 15, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  2. Monty

    How can he claim that Cuba is the most oppressive government in the west, when the U.S. jails far more people? He just admitted earlier in the article that congress is lied to by the CIA. We all heard the lies the NSA told congress. Despite it being illegal, the justice department never bring charges against the perpetrators. What a joke.

    December 15, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  3. Sol

    If the CIA ;lied to Congress, then do you think they also lie to POTUS?

    December 15, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  4. Monty

    Why is McCain even in Ukraine other than for a publicity stunt? Doesn't the Senate need to get the budget deal passed? It would seem he should be getting enough political intrigue in the U.S. that he doesn't need to go mettle in the Ukraine.

    December 15, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  5. Maximus Gilabatus

    Yeah, and just maybe Congress failed to do its job under Bush as well.

    December 15, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. Bob E

    Instead of wondering aloud,"Gee, the intelligence agencies didn't keep the congressional oversight committees up to date," maybe the bigger question is: why the he11 do we run a dozen different, competing intelligence agencies?

    December 15, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. Bart

    Whoa, time out. I read the article, agreed with most of what he says, read all the snarky comments, then re-read the article and I _still_ agree with most of what he says.
    What is _with_ you people?

    One at a time:
    Obama should not give Castro the time of day. That was foolish. File under 'duh.'
    To say Putin is "meddling" is an understatement. Of course, we stand with the protesters in Ukraine.
    McCain pled gulity (!) to exaggerating. Has BO ever done that?
    He's voting for the compromise (!) budget. So let's pillory him?
    Kim is in fact a nut case and the Chinese are–I hope–worrying about him. I hope.

    I repeat: what is _with_ you people? Bunch of CNNies (rhymes with ninnies).

    December 15, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  8. Chris

    "Apparently the CIA did not tell Congress the truth....."
    These guys are a laugh riot. And they represent the best that America has to offer?

    December 15, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. Fish

    Sen. McCain broke THE NUMBER ONE RULE OF AMERICA, NEVER CRITICIZE OUR NATION WHILE ABROAD!!! If he wants to criticize than he can wait till he gets home otherwise it is dirty pool not surprising to come from the Senator From the Keating five!!! Comprende???

    December 15, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. lance

    Follow the money.....McCain is in the top three recipients of money provided by the American Israhell Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I don't trust the traitorous AIPAC scumbags as far as I can spit.

    December 15, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  11. John

    Someone should tell McCain that sometimes it's better to say less, even when the interviewer is looking for more words. That's what they do, they wait and hope McCain starts foaming at the mouth, and letting those transitory thoughts we all have that end up being flushed right out of our minds are now recorded for everyone to hear and read. I see many comments are looking to term limits for House & Senate members, it's time, but they can't receive $175K a year for life with benefits that are exaggerated with dream like extra's for federal representation.

    December 15, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  12. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    It's not the first time and won't be the last time , that what spies do!!

    December 15, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  13. Hooper

    Anyone else remember the Keating 5. This paragon of republican bullshit lied then, as well as now. Do the words recall and imprison come to mind. They do for me. Got a problem with that, sit on your thumbs and twirl.

    December 15, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. Matt

    We kept saying he was dead, that is how we got proof of life.

    December 15, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  15. w l jones

    Where were some people when we had problem in this country ?..under a rock.

    December 15, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  16. Ed

    Lets see McCain states Cuba most oppressive, repressive, continues to jail dissidents, at first I thought he might be referring to China but then again they make products cheap for us and Corporate America loves them so we overlook the same issues in that country.

    December 15, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  17. Chris .al

    Mccain is good man with big heart an still willing to traval the world an tell real human beings freedom is a god given rite. put his life on the line 4 freedom 4 this contry 2! .screw castro oh puttin to. they is no good in them. wake up u s a.

    December 15, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  18. larry the conquerer

    When you have nutbars like Bachman on the 'intelligence committee' maybe the CIA shouldnt be telling congress anything. When you have elected morons like Cheney colluding in the outing of CIA operatives,and his cohort Scooter Libby getting a slap on the wrist- then you really have to question who is trusted with the nations secrets.

    December 15, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  19. mutantsubhuman

    Sixth noteworthy point is that McCain is actually a Democrat that lied about being a Republican.

    December 15, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  20. Peppy

    Wow, I am willing to bet its not the first lie the CIA as told. McCain has been a good man over the years, time to rest big John.

    December 15, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  21. donald

    i learned that mccain is a whack job.

    December 15, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  22. john wright

    Who does McCain think he is? The nerve to address demonstrating citizens of another country. How would we Americans respond if a Chinese official came to the US and spoke to a croud of street demonstrators in support?

    December 15, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |

    The whole Benghazi debacle was a CIA program. McCain won't bring that up while he blames President Obama.

    December 15, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  24. John in Brooklyn

    Republicans are such hypocrites. If a Republican were president right now and a Democratic US Senator went to a country at the center of a critical foreign policy conflict....and presumed to be critical of the US government's handling of foreign policy with that DOUBT the Republicans would call him/her every name in the book...including traitor. Sit down, Mr. McCain. You lost. Shut up.

    December 15, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  25. works4me

    1. I'm glad he didn't win
    2. I'm glad he didn't win
    3. I'm glad he didn't win
    4. I'm glad he didn't win
    5. I'm glad he didn't win

    December 15, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
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