PHILADELPHIA — Ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Republican issues retreat on Thursday, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said he wants to hear from the president about Russia.
“I want to hear him say that Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed Crimea and … taken parts of the Ukraine. He has used his aircraft with precision weapons to attack hospitals in Aleppo — the clear definition of a war crime,” the Arizona Republican told reporters.
McCain said he would not necessarily confront Trump, but he did say he could seek to ask about relations with Russia during the question-and-answer session at the luncheon with House and Senate Republicans.
“[Putin has] threatened his neighbors. He is using cyber in a most effective fashion, tried to affect the election of the United States of America, is trying to undermine the governments of the Baltics and wants to restore … the empire,” he said. “I want [Trump] to acknowledge that that is what our challenge is. And it doesn’t mean war with Russia. It means a re-enactment of the 1980s. Peace through strength.”
McCain said he had a couple of conversations with the new president, including before Trump nominated retired Gen. James Mattis as Defense secretary, but joked that they would not be meeting alone while in Center City.
“This is a big luncheon. I’m not having a one-on-one meeting with him,” he told pool reporters awaiting remarks from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and British Prime Minister Theresa May. “I know its been a clerical error.”
McCain also said he was being kept up-to-date by Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr of North Carolina about that panel’s inquiry into Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. elections and other cybersecurity concerns, in addition to having a separate cybersecurity subcommittee at Armed Services.
But McCain said he still wants to see a select committee formed, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell having said it would be handled through regular committees.
“It’s too early to tell whether there’s been any progress or not,” McCain said of the Intelligence Committee’s efforts. “I still think we need a select committee. If you look at the gravity of the offense, in my view, it warrants a select committee. If he had succeeded, and I don’t think he did, to change the result of an American election? Then you destroy the fundamentals of democracy.”