John McCain’s True Colors

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain has been very vocal in his opposition to the Obama Administration’s handling of the Benghazi affair. This should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers that McCain lost the 2008 Presidential Election to Barack Obama, and that he’s been overly critical of that administration ever since, especially on Benghazi.

On Wednesday November 14, McCain held a press conference demanding that more information be provided by the Obama Administration about the September 11 attack. Oddly, while that press conference was going on, the very information he was demanding was being discussed at a classified briefing in another part of the Capitol building. From abcnews.com:

The classified briefing was held on Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee – of which Senator McCain is a member – and lasted three hours. It featured testimony by officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center.

During part of the briefing, McCain was holding a press conference demanding answers about the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Step. 11 that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. McCain called on Congress to launch Watergate-style hearings to get to the bottom of what happened.

“More than two months after the Benghazi attack, there are still many unanswered questions,” McCain told reporters in the Capitol Hill press conference. “While we await the findings and recommendations of the administration’s internal review of the Benghazi attack, it’s essential for the Congress to conduct its own independent assessment.”

At precisely the same time McCain was holding that press conference, the briefing for the Homeland Security Committee was happening in another part of the Capitol building.

Naturally, when McCain turned up missing for that briefing, and it became known that his press conference was happening nearly simultaneously, reporters were curious and asked McCain about why he didn’t attend.

Some say the true John McCain–known to both Washington and Arizona politicians alike–emerged from hiding:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was less than willing to entertain questions Thursday on why he held a press conference Wednesday to complain about lack of information on the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, while simultaneously skipping a nearly two-hour classified briefing with administration officials about the investigation.

CNN’s Dana Bash reported on air that McCain, when questioned by a producer on the subject on Capitol Hill, not only refused to answer, but grew “very angry”:

I have to tell you something that just happened on Capitol Hill, and that is our Senate producer Ted Barrett just ran into John McCain and asked about something that we’re hearing from Democrats, which is John McCain is calling for more information to Congress, but he had a press conference yesterday instead of going to a closed briefing where administration officials were giving more information. Well, Ted Barrett asked John McCain about that, and it was apparently an intense, very angry exchange and McCain simply would not comment on it at all.

McCain has been one of the sharpest critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the attack in Benghazi on Sept. 11, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the Arizona senator spent much of Wednesday renewing calls for a special committee to investigate the attack and, in the process, missed a Benghazi briefing in which administration officials offered additional details to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which McCain is a member.

Politico reported that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) did not see the need for a special committee on Benghazi and even seemed to take a shot at McCain for his absence during the briefing:

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, backed up her chairman, Lieberman, and dinged McCain, a member of the panel, for missing Wednesday’s nearly two-hour briefing in the Capitol.Both Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, “who was there at briefing, and Sen. McCain, who was not, are members of our committee, and I know they would play very important roles,” Collins told POLITICO after the briefing.

“I do not see the benefit of creating a brand new committee when we already have the Senate’s chief oversight committee, plus the Intelligence Committee, examining this very important matter.”

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for McCain, said the senator missed the briefing due to a “scheduling error.” Rogers declined to comment when The Huffington Post asked for a reaction to comments from Collins and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) that a special committee for Benghazi is unnecessary, or if McCain has spoken with Collins since the briefing.

This update appears in the story:

UPDATE: 4:25 p.m. — CNN published a more detailed account of its exchange with McCain, in which, when asked why he wouldn’t comment on missing the briefing, the senator responded, “Who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?”

When CNN approached McCain in a Capitol hallway Thursday morning, the senator refused to comment about why he missed the briefing, which was conducted by top diplomatic, military and counter-terrorism officials. Instead, McCain got testy when pressed to say why he wasn’t there.“I have no comment about my schedule and I’m not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media,” McCain said.

Asked why he wouldn’t comment, McCain grew agitated: “Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?”

When CNN noted that McCain had missed a key meeting on a subject the senator has been intensely upset about, McCain said, “I’m upset that you keep badgering me.”

McCain did attend a briefing on Benghazi held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, but refused to take questions from reporters outside. “I have nothing to say,” McCain said heatedly as he left the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours.

Arizonans who have followed the state’s political news have seen this side of McCain before. While McCain has done much good for the state, and was a good successor to Republican Senator and failed presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, he’s still had his share of embarrassing political moments. Former Arizona Republic editor and publisher Pat Murphy detailed some of these:

Those who’ve known John McCain since he began his Arizona political career two decades ago made two mistakes. First, we underestimated the Washington media’s gullibility for a political schmooze job. Second, we underestimated McCain’s mastery in reincarnating himself as a lovable maverick glowing with political virtue and amiable charm while camouflaging his bullyboy and deceitful ways.

If McCain were to become president, Americans would wake up to more than a commander-in-chief with a prickly temperament and a low boiling point. McCain is a man who carries get-even grudges. He cannot endure criticism. He threatens. He controls by fear. He’s consumed with self-importance. He shifts blame. McCain’s thin skin and demand to have it his way have been obvious since infancy, when he held his breath until he was unconscious, and later in Washington, where he has resorted to pushing and shoving colleagues when irritated.

McCain is a man obsessed with political ambitions but plagued by self-destructive petty impulses. It was vintage McCain who exploded when the Arizona Republic questioned whether the man dubbed “Senator Hothead” in Washington is fit to be entrusted with presidential powers. Instead of conceding what’s common knowledge about his volcanic personality, McCain exploded in denial, blaming a newspaper vendetta and George W. Bush for “orchestrating” the criticism. When his claims drew snickers, McCain shifted to another explanation: He explodes when he sees “injustice.”

But this sort of blame-fixing works where it counts–with reporters who’ve come to blindly lionize McCain as a high-minded champion of political virtue fighting demons of political corruption. Perhaps McCain’s master stroke in inoculating himself from serious media scrutiny was his early fusillade of confessions–his adultery ruined his first marriage, the Keating Five scandal was a blemish on his reputation, he indulged in wild and reckless misbehavior as an Annapolis midshipman. He finally endeared himself to the media with his Quixotic promise to reform campaign financing and by holding court with reporters aboard his “Straight Talk Express” bus.

The new journalism of dwelling on personalities rather than tedious investigative digging gives McCain a free ride from the national media. Swooning media ensure McCain special treatment in the right places: 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace cooed on the air that he likes McCain so much, he might leave TV to become his press secretary. Salon’s Jake Tapper dubbed him “basically just a cool dude.” Newsmen of another generation note that reporters covering McCain also are reluctant to seem tough on a man with McCain’s painful experience as a prisoner of war.

One who hasn’t been so quick to fall in line is Washington Post columnist David Broder, who warned on NBC’s Meet the Press that “after the experience we all had with President Clinton [ignoring Arkansas reports of his misdeeds], I’m not inclined to discount the view of home-state reporters and journalists who have covered a candidate over the years.” A few enterprising non-Arizona journalists have peeled back the McCain veneer. Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson spent several weeks digging into McCain’s Arizona behavior and reporting his dark side. Ditto Ted Rose of Brill’s Content. And the acknowledged Arizona media expert on McCain, reporter Amy Silverman of the Phoenix New Times (more on her later), gave readers of Playboy a McCain portrait not found elsewhere.

ABC’s Sam Donaldson came close to giving millions of viewers a clearer picture in a taped interview with Silverman for 20/20. But the segment was canceled the night before airing, fueling speculation that McCain’s oversight of broadcasters as Senate Commerce Committee chairman makes the networks wary of offending him. Several years ago, when NBC refused to support his TV-rating system, McCain wrote a letter to NBC President Robert Wright, threatening to ask the FCC to review licenses of the network’s locally owned stations.

Murphy goes on to tell a particularly disturbing story about the dirty trick McCain played on newly-appointed Governor Rose Mofford, who was a beloved figure amongst the people of Arizona:

I’m among the swelling ranks of onetime McCain acquaintances ostracized for not being slavishly loyal. After McCain settled in Arizona with his young second wife, a millionaire, he asked me at dinner for help with a political career. As editorial page editor (and later publisher) of the Arizona Republic, I declined to be his political coach. However, we socialized, including dinners at his home. We even discussed writing a book. The relationship ended, however, when our newspaper exposed McCain as a liar who used an underhanded political trick.

Here is what happened: McCain boasted to my wife and me over lunch in Washington that he had planted complex questions with the Senate Interior Committee chairman to sabotage the testimony of Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford, a Democrat, about the Central Arizona Project, the multibillion-dollar Colorado River water delivery system for Arizona urban areas. When I protested to McCain that the project had enjoyed bipartisan support for nearly 50 years, from conservative Barry Goldwater to liberal Morris Udall, McCain retorted: “I’m duty bound to embarrass a Democrat whenever I can.”

When reporters later asked McCain about planted questions, he feigned insult and injury and denied any such ploy. Editors in Phoenix were informed of McCain’s deceit. After a news story and editorial appeared, McCain went into meltdown, shrieking on the phone: “I know you’re out to get me!” (Several years later, McCain admitted the dirty trick and apologized to Mofford, who was then out of office.)

Sadly, McCain’s political history is not that much better or worse than most other politically-elected individuals. As someone who has a long and distinguished career in the US Senate, it’s just that his length of service and sometimes-erratic behavior make these gaffes easier to spot.

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