In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “the premier and most important” national security threat to the United States, “more so” than the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“I think ISIS can do terrible things, and I worry a lot about what is happening with the Muslim faith, and I worry about a whole lot of things about it,” McCain said. “But it’s the Russians who are trying, who tried to destroy the very fundamental of democracy, and that is to change the outcome of an American election.”
The comments come as McCain met with Australian leaders for security talks Monday and one week after the Manchester, England, terror attack, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
McCain pointed to Russian attempts to influence elections in France and the United States, along with “pressure” Russia is applying to the Baltic States.
“They just tried to affect the outcome of the French election. 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,” he said.
The Arizona Republican also weighed in on a Washington Post report from last week that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner wanted to set up back-channel communications with Russia.
“I don’t like it. I just don’t,” McCain said. “I don’t think it’s standard procedure prior to the inauguration of a president of the United States by someone who is not in an appointed position.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended the arrangement on Sunday in an interview with ABC.
“It’s not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government,” Kelly said.