BY ERIC GARCIA AND NIELS LESNIEWSKI, CQ ROLL CALL
Sen. John McCain said on Australian television that he sees Russian President Vladimir Putin as more of a threat than the Islamic State.
And the Arizona Republican said he was concerned about reports of back channels between Jared Kushner and Russian entities before the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
“I know some administration officials are saying this is standard procedure. I don’t think it’s standard procedure prior to the inauguration of the president of the United States by someone who is not in an appointed position,” McCain said.
Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, allegedly had back-channel communications through Russian banker Sergey N. Gorkov, a known ally of Putin.
“I think ISIS can do terrible things,” McCain said during an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview. “But it’s the Russians who tried to destroy the fundamental of democracy and that is to change the outcome of an American election.”
McCain spoke with the ABC while on a visit to Canberra, Australia’s capital city.
“I think he (Putin) is the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS,” he continued in his interview.
Trump has said reports about Russia colluding with his campaign is “a made-up story.” Earlier this month, Trump fired James B. Comey, the FBI director who was leading an investigation into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded late last year that Russia had, in fact, attempted to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.
“They just tried to affect the outcome of the French election,” McCain said. “So I view Vladimir Putin — who has dismembered Ukraine, a sovereign nation, who is putting pressure on the Baltics — I view the Russians as the far greatest challenge that we have.”
McCain reiterated his belief that there need to be more sanctions placed on Russia in response to the interference.
“So we need to have increased sanctions and hopefully when we come back from our recess, the Senate will move forward with sanctions on Russia and enact other penalties for Russian behavior,” he said.
The Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess on Monday, June 5.