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CNN and National Journal joined forces Thursday to explore the 2014 midterm elections at the first "Politics on Tap" event in Washington D.C. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, joined CNN’s Jake Tapper, Brianna Keilar and Peter Hamby, as well as National Journal’s Ron Fournier, and Michelle Cottle for the private gathering. Check out some of the best highlights from the event on our Storify page.
By CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper
(CNN) – Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, made a surprising suggestion Thursday night: If he had been elected in 2000, there might not have been a war in Iraq.
The Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, who lost his race for the GOP nomination that year but went on to become his party’s nominee in 2008, made his comments in a far-reaching interview in CNN and National Journal’s “Politics On Tap” event, after this reporter asked him what would be different if he had won either in 2000 or 2008.
On 2008, McCain said “national security” would be different, and he delineated the many ways he would have done things differently from the victor, President Barack Obama. But when asked about 2000, McCain made the most surprising remarks. “You’ll find this surprising,” he said, “but I think I would’ve been more reluctant to commit American troops.”
McCain was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq; one of his sons fought in the war.
“If presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way,” McCain said of his vote to deploy troops in the country. “I respected and trusted the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. But it’s obvious now, in retrospect, that Saddam Hussein – although he had used weapons of mass destruction – did not have the inventory that we seem to have evidence of. Which now looking back on it, with the benefit of hindsight, (the evidence) was very flimsy.”
If he had been president, McCain said, “I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny. I think that with my background with the military and knowledge of national security with these issues that I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time.”
McCain specifically cited one of the sources of the faulty intelligence. “The guy named ‘Curveball’ that we were relying on turned out to be some guy in a German prison that was an alcoholic.”
The senator noted, “I’m not blaming President George W. Bush. It’s not for me to critique my predecessors, especially those that I lost to.”