It had been very careless in their behavior

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Daniel Victor, "What Was Behind Those Befuddling McCain Questions?", NYT 6/8/2017:

Senator John McCain became an unexpected focus of befuddlement and concern on Thursday after a line of questioning that appeared to conflate two separate F.B.I. investigations during James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Here's the start of Senator McCain's questions:

JohnMcCain: In the case of uh
Hillary Clinton,
you made the statement that
there wasn't uh
sufficient evidence to bring a suit
against her, although
it had been very uh
careless in their behavior. But you did reach a conclusion
in that case that it was not uh necessary to
further pursue her.
Yet, at the same time, in the case
of Mister Comey,
said that there was not enough information to make
a conclusion. Tell me the difference between your conclusion as far as
former Secretary Clinton is concerned and-
and Mist- Mister Trump.

Senator McCain released an explanatory statement on Thursday afternoon:

I get the sense from Twitter that my line of questioning today went over people's heads. Maybe going forward I shouldn't stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games.

What I was trying to get at was whether Mr. Comey believes that any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice. In the case of Secretary Clinton's emails, Mr. Comey was willing to step beyond his role as an investigator and state his belief about what 'no reasonable prosecutor' would conclude about the evidence. I wanted Mr. Comey to apply the same approach to the key question surrounding his interactions with President Trump—whether or not the President's conduct constitutes obstruction of justice. While I missed an opportunity in today's hearing, I still believe this question is important, and I intend to submit it in writing to Mr. Comey for the record.

I've made a personal decision to start cutting back on late-night baseball, given these later exchanges.

He seems to feel that Hillary Clinton should continue to be investigated for conspiring with Russia to lose the election:

JamesComey: Yes, as of July the 5th,
the FBI completed its investigative work, and that's what I was announcing – what we had done and what we had found.
JohnMcCain: Well,
at least in the minds of this member, there's a whole lot of questions remaining
about what went on,
considering the fact that
as you mention, it's a quote big deal
as to what went on during the campaign.
I'm glad you concluded that part of the investigation, but I-
I- I think that the American people have a whole lot of questions out there, particularly since you just emphasized
the role that Russia played.
And, obviously, she was a candidate for president at the time,
so she was clearly involved
in this whole
situation where
fake news
uh as you just described it big deal
uh took place.
And you're going to have to help me out here.
In- in other words, we're complete-
the investigation of
anything that former Secretary Clinton had to do with the campaign is over and we don't have to worry about it anymore?

And if she's been cleared, why is President Comey still under investigation:

JamesComey: at least, when I left- when I was fired on May the 9th, there was still an open, active investigation to understand the Russian efforts
and whether any Americans work with them.
JohnMcCain: But you reached the conclusion that there was no reason to bring charges again Secretary Clinton.
So you reached a conclusion.
In the case of Mr. Comey,
uh President uh Comey
((I mean))
JamesComey: No, sir.
JohnMcCain: excuse me, case of President Trump,
uh have an ongoing investigation.
So you got one candidate
who you're done with
and another candidate that you have a long way
to go.
Is that correct?

In addition to his apparent confusion about the nature and timing of the various investigations, and his three substitutions of "Comey" for "Trump", he turns "lead you to believe" into "believe you to believe", and goes on past his allotted time despite several attempts by Senator Burr to remind him:

JohnMcCain: are you aware- anything that would believe you
to believe that
((or the)) members of the administration or members of the campaign
could potentially be used to coerce or blackmail the administration?
RichardBurr: {bangs gavel}
JamesComey: That's a subject for investigation, ((it's)) not something I can comment on sitting here.
RichardBurr: {bangs gavel}
JohnMcCain: But you've reached that conclusion as far as Secretary Clinton was concerned
But you're not reaching a conclusion as far as this administration is concerned
RichardBurr: {bangs gavel}
JohnMcCain: uh are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists
that could
RichardBurr: {bangs gavel}
JohnMcCain: coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?
JamesComey: That's not a question I can answer Senator.
RichardBurr: Senator's time's expired.

I've made similar speech errors many times myself over the course of my life, but (I hope) never quite so often in a public setting.

The reactions in the media and on Twitter have been brutal.

Update — Paul Kane, "One explanation for McCain’s grogginess: a 75,000-mile itinerary as ‘shadow’ diplomat", WaPo 6/10/2017.


  1. D.O. said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 11:25 am

    The more this saga is going on the less talents (or the genre) of Ms. Bee and Messrs. Oliver, Noah, and Colbert seem to be adequate to the task of giving it the cultural interpretation. We need to resurrect Moliere.

  2. Rubrick said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

    I also suspect he doesn't fully grasp the meaning of "over people's heads" (or perhaps I don't)? In using it, he seems to imply that his line of questioning was so advanced or arcane that ordinary folks wouldn't be able to follow it.

    [(myl) "I expressed a complicated idea unclearly and therefore confused everyone" is less embarrassing than "I was confused"…]

  3. Bloix said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    Kubrick – what is he supposed to say? "Having read the transcript of my questions, it's clear that I sounded drunk or stoned or having an ischemic attack"?

  4. JPL said,

    June 11, 2017 @ 12:23 am

    McCain was, I think, the only one to draw attention to Trump's expression "we had 'that thing'", and that little bit of Trumpian usage is I think a central clue to his understanding of "what was going on" between him and Comey in the loyalty pledge exchange. Hypothesizing: Trump thought he had Comey's agreement to be loyal (he didn't, but Comey messed up a litle bit there), but when the subpoenas of Flynn and his documents came flying, he realized he had not been loyal, or that Comey had violated his agreement, and so that triggered his firing of him. The question of the reference of "that thing" is yet unanswered. So did Trump express in the earlier conversation his desire to have Comey promise his loyalty to him? In Trump's psychology of action these kinds of personal offenses seem to have great prominence. (BTW, you can't use indirect speech to refer to Trump's language use; you need to refer to it using an exact quote, and then try to figure out what he was doing in Searlian terms and refer to it as an object of analysis.)

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