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McCain Slams Trump's Attacks On The Press: 'That's How Dictators Get Started'

Sen. John McCain takes a shot at Trump for calling the media the "enemy of the American people" during an interview on NBC's Meet the Press.
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I don't have much faith in any Republican taking their oversight duties seriously as long as a member of their own party is running the show, For all of his tough talk, Sen. John McCain and these other so-called "mavericks" in the Senate have voted pretty much in lockstep with Trump as Nate Sliver over at Five Thirty Eight noted this weekend:

McCain was asked about whether or not the Republican-led Congress can be trusted to investigate the Trump administration and their ties to Russian intelligence, and about Trump's attacks on the press and his tweet calling the media the "enemy of the American people" during an interview on NBC's Meet the Press.

McCain warned that we should learn the lessons from history when it comes to dictators and their penchant for shutting down the free press, but wasn't willing to take the leap and accuse Trump of actually "trying to be a dictator."

When Republicans like McCain actually start acting as a check and balance on this administration rather than a rubber stamp, maybe we'll start taking their warnings seriously as well.

Transcript via NBC News:

CHUCK TODD: That was a pretty powerful speech you gave on Friday. It seems as if it was a powerful defense of the West. You didn't mention the president by name, but it was hard not to conclude that that's who you were referring to. Is that fair?

JOHN MCCAIN:I was certainly referring to the threats that we are now facing with the stated goals of this administration, which would upset the last 70 years of a new world order which was established after World War II. 70 years based on human rights, respect for the law, free trade. All of the things, aspects of this world order that took place after one of the most horrific, terrible wars in history. And I'm for maintaining it. And I'm afraid that it's under assault from a variety of forces including, by the way, the Russians.

CHUCK TODD: You say a variety of forces. You're being careful here. Do you think the president agrees with you about the world order or not?

JOHN MCCAIN: I think many of his statements have been contradictory. Some of them have indicated that. I am very pleased with the national security team that he has around him here in Munich, by the way, in General Mattis and General Kelly. And the vice-president gave a very good speech today. But I worry about statements which upset our friends at a time when the strains on the European Union and Europeans are greater than they have been since any time since the end of the Cold War.

CHUCK TODD: Tell me what Europeans are saying to you about what they are hearing from the new president compared to what they're hearing from the new secretary of defense and the new vice-president. Because it seems to be two different messages. Or you could forgive them if they think it's two different messages.

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, in some ways it is, Chuck. And they are puzzled and they are concerned. They realize that the linchpin of the Western alliance is the United States of America. And they worry particularly when they see increased testings of this union that's being conducted by Vladimir Putin as we speak whether it be increased attacks in Ukraine, whether it be more disinformation, whether it appears that he's trying to interfere with European elections the way he tried to in ours. And so this is a period of uncertainty about American commitment to that world order that I mentioned to you that had made the 20th century well named the American century.

CHUCK TODD: Now, the president has been waffling a little bit when it comes to his views on NATO. The vice-president did not waffle at all. Secretary Mattis didn't at all either. What has been the reaction of NATO allies to both Secretary Mattis and what they've heard from the president?

JOHN MCCAIN: They're very pleased. The German foreign minister, by the way, gave a speech which while not confrontational was certainly questioning about certain Trump administration policies. I had not seen that before. But there's a lot of uncertainty out there. The speeches given by Mattis and Pence, as you mentioned, and will be done by Kelly are very reassuring to them. They have a lot of trust in these individuals. We've just got to have a consistent message to these people who are seriously threatened, particularly our friends in the Baltics.

CHUCK TODD: May I ask the question this way? How much confidence do you have in the current commander-in-chief?

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I worry. I worry about the president's understanding of some of these issues and his contradictory articulations. And I think the rollout of the, quote, immigration reform was an example of a need for an orderly decision-making process in the White House. And that, I think, is probably what's plaguing them more than anything else right now.

CHUCK TODD: You know, you've taken extra care to say how much you like the president's national security team. Does that include what you've seen out of the National Security Council?

JOHN MCCAIN:I worry about the membership. There has never been a political advisor as a permanent member of the National Security Council. And in Mr. Bannon's role as both political advisor and member of the National Security Council, I'm very worried about. Former Secretary of Defense Gates has said he's deeply concerned. So has Leon Panetta and many others who view the National Security Council as apolitical and should not be influenced by any political influences.

CHUCK TODD: It's interesting you bring up Mr. Bannon. He calls himself an economic nationalist. When you hear that-- or how about this? When Europeans hear that, what do they hear?

JOHN MCCAIN: They hear, they feel uncertain about our trade relationships. They saw that we abandoned the TPP. They're facing the Brexit problem right now. Again, there's a lot of uncertainty in Munich and around our friends and allies today. Chuck, I think so much of this could be cured with a straightforward, clear, important speech on the part of the president of the United States. He's going to speak to Congress here pretty soon as you know. The State of the Union. I think that's going to be a very, very important speech.

CHUCK TODD: Go ahead. Why is that so important to you? I thought you were going to finish that thought.

JOHN MCCAIN: Because of the uncertainty around the world and in the United States as to exactly where the United States stands vis-à-vis many important issues. For example, NAFTA. My state, it will be a disaster if we abandon NAFTA. There's too much trade between our two countries. That's just one example our relationship, All this business with Vladimir Putin is very disturbing to all of us. To equate Vladimir Putin and the United States of America as he was asked. You know, I guess it was Bill O'Reilly who said, "But Putin is a killer." And he basically said, "So are we." That moral equivalency is a contradiction of everything the United States has ever stood for in the 20th and 21st century.

CHUCK TODD: I'm curious. You have some, obviously you have some confidence issues in this president. You'd like him to straighten some things out. Has that given you any pause about supporting members of his cabinet even if you like them personally because you think, "You know what? As much as I like person X, I'm troubled by the commander-in-chief"? Has that ever entered into your mind on any of these confirmations?

JOHN MCCAIN:As I mentioned, I strongly support the national security team. I've known them for many, many years. I did vote against his nominee for budget director because he had consistently argued strenuously for further reductions in defense spending. The president has committed to increases in defense spending, which are badly needed. Our defenses are at a low level. So, no, I think we should give the president the benefit of the doubt. But at the same time, we have our responsibilities of avise and consent.

CHUCK TODD: Speaking of responsibilities, I know that congress, I know there's a lot of members of Congress it seems this week that do want to get more involved into an investigation into what Russia did, what role did Russia play in the 2016 election. Right now, it's all in the intel committee. I know you want a special select committee of some sort. There seems to be some momentum for that. Why do you think Senator McConnell is still so hesitant?

JOHN MCCAIN:I think Senator McConnell has confidence in the intelligence committee. I was looking for a select committee on the attempts of Russia to affect the outcome of our election. On this broader issue, let's get some answers to some fundamental questions. There are so many questions out there that we first of all need to understand the parameters of what's happened here. And so I would hold off and wait and see what happens. One thing that you and I know from being around Washington, there's probably going to be some more shoes to drop.

CHUCK TODD: That's true, but let me ask you this. Can be Americans be confident that a Republican-controlled Congress can investigate this president thoroughly if necessary?

JOHN MCCAIN: I hope so. And I have to believe so.

CHUCK TODD: And then before I let you go.

JOHN MCCAIN: More hope than belief.

CHUCK TODD: More hope than belief? Before I let you go--

JOHN MCCAIN: Both.

CHUCK TODD: I'm curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people." You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital. If you want to preserve- I'm very serious now- if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That's how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: No. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I'm not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I'm just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

CHUCK TODD: Senator McCain, I'm going to leave it there. You are a student of history. That's for sure. I always appreciate you sharing your views no matter how much you hate me. That's all right.

JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Senator McCain, thank you.

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