The Cable

That Time McCain and Clapper Purportedly Argued About Torture? It Never Happened.

Sen. John McCain and DNI James Clapper never argued about terrorism; McCain had the dust-up with Michael Hayden.


On Monday afternoon, Sen. John McCain apologized to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for his accusation, made Saturday, that Clapper believed in the value of torturing terror suspects. As it turns out, Clapper never told the Arizona Republican anything of the sort.

A Sunday message shared with Foreign Policy on Tuesday shows that McCain made a mistake. Instead, according to the message, McCain’s staff told Clapper’s staff that their boss had been referring to a “knockdown” argument he had with retired Gen. Michael Hayden, sometime during Hayden’s tenure as CIA director from 2006 to 2009.

The controversy started with this tweet from the Aspen Security Forum, where McCain spoke Saturday. A tweet sent out by the forum quoted McCain as saying he and Clapper “had a knockdown fight” over torture and other brutal interrogation techniques.

Then, on Monday, in what appeared to be an apology for his statement, McCain tweeted this.

But the message made available to FP shows that this tweet was actually meant as a full retraction and that McCain mistakenly attributed Hayden’s comments to Clapper. Hayden isn’t mentioned in the tweet.

It’s not clear when the McCain/Hayden dust-up occurred; McCain’s office didn’t return a request for comment.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

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