President Trump is again training his fire on the late senator John McCain, nearly seven months after the Arizona Republican’s death from brain cancer.
Trump’s tweets over the weekend prompted a rebuke from the senator’s daughter Meghan McCain and from some lawmakers.
On Saturday, Trump quoted former independent counsel Ken Starr, who criticized McCain on a recent Fox News show. In the segment, Starr referred to reports that a McCain ally had shared with the media parts of a dossier that allegedly included information linking Trump to the Russian government.
Trump piled on in his Saturday night tweet, criticizing McCain — as he has repeatedly done on the campaign trail and in interviews — for his vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
Meghan McCain tweeted in response: “No one will ever love you the way they loved my father . . . I wish I had been given more Saturday’s with him. Maybe spend yours with your family instead of on twitter obsessing over mine?”
The next morning, Trump was at it again.
Returning to the subject of the Steele dossier, Trump incorrectly stated that John McCain, who the president claimed had been “last in his class” at the U.S. Naval Academy, had “sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election.”
“He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!” Trump said in the tweet.
Meghan McCain responded to Trump via Twitter.
“My father lives rent free in your head,” she said in a tweet that later appeared to have been deleted.
Trump’s tweet contained three errors. McCain, a member of the Naval Academy’s class of 1958, graduated fifth from last in his class. The senator was not made aware of the Steele dossier until Nov. 18, 2016 — after Trump had won the election. And there is no evidence that McCain gave the dossier to the media.
Former McCain aide David Kramer, a Russia expert, testified in a deposition in the BuzzFeed libel case in Florida that he gave the dossier to the media in December 2016. McCain himself gave the dossier to the FBI, but there is no evidence that he gave it to the media.
The libel suit was filed by a Russian technology mogul, who argued that the news outlet defamed him when it published the dossier. BuzzFeed prevailed in the suit in December, when a judge found the organization had the right to publish the dossier. In response to a request from the New York Times, the judge last week unsealed documents related to the suit, including Kramer’s deposition, which is why the topic is again back in the news.
Some of McCain’s former Senate colleagues defended him in the wake of Trump’s tweet.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential contender, called Trump’s attacks on McCain “just another outrageous action by the president.”
“John McCain was a war hero,” Klobuchar said. “He served our country well. And he died. And the courage he showed in life was matched — when he was in that cell for five years in Vietnam, as a prisoner of war — was matched by the courage he showed us when he died.”
Klobuchar also defended McCain’s handling of the dossier, arguing that turning it over to the FBI “was the right thing to do.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) mused that there must be “something deeply troubled” in Trump for him to constantly belittle McCain.
“Deep within, Trump must realize how far better a man John was and will always be,” Whitehouse said in a tweet.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was one of McCain’s closest allies on Capitol Hill but who pivoted to fully embrace Trump after the senator’s death, praised McCain on Twitter but made no mention of the president or his remarks.
“As to @SenJohnMcCain and his devotion to his country: He stepped forward to risk his life for his country, served honorably under difficult circumstances, and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body,” Graham said. “Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished.”
Rosalind S. Helderman and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.