OTR Interviews

McCain on his op-ed response to Putin: 'We need to realize who we are dealing with here - an old KGB colonel who wants to stay in power for life'

Veteran senator explains why he penned an op-ed to counter Russian president Putin's critique of America in the New York Times, sounds off on the latest in the Syria crisis


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Russian President Putin outraging many Americans with his "New York Times" op-ed. And now Senator John McCain getting even in a Russian online publication. We spoke with Senator McCain a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Greta. And I look forward to seeing you in your new time slot. Maybe I'll get more rest now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. We all will. We are all thrilled. The staff loves me as a consequence now.

MCCAIN: For a change.

VAN SUSTEREN: Exactly. I tell you who probably doesn't love you. You practically took the skin off President Putin in your op-ed online. You called him everything. You called him basically corrupt, elections are rigged, control of the media. Did you leave anything out?

MCCAIN: If I didn't leave anything out, it's because I didn't think of it. Look, by the way, there are two "Pravdas." One is online and the other is the old line communist one who said they wouldn't print mine because I didn't adopt their position on Syria. But I was pleased that "Pravda" published online. And I was glad Vladimir Putin not only said I was wrong but he invited me to a discussion club in Moscow. I will have to look at it and maybe I'll take him up on the invite.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's beyond me how that can happen. You described it here first of all by the editor described it as an active anti-Russian politician for many years. You basically just ripped the skin off Putin and off of him. I'm not saying he doesn't deserved it.

MCCAIN: But Greta, what is going on in Russia is outrageous. Ranging from the jailing of some young women who did something pretty rude, to the Magnitski situation, where this man who was a reformer was basically killed in prison. There is not a media outlet today in Russia that's not owned by the government. The repression and even killing of some dissidents is rampant. They are total violators of human rights. And we need to realize who we are dealing with here, an old KGB colonel, and that's what he is, that wants to stay in power for life.

VAN SUSTEREN: The irony is he's now sort of the peacenik in terms that he stops the U.S. from targeted strikes in Syria.

MCCAIN: Now thanks to this incredible bungling, he's now the arbiter of peace in the Middle East. He has inserted Russia, by the way, the 16th world's largest economy, 16th. But he's now made Russia relevant and impactful in the Middle East in a way they haven't been since 1973. And now he is supposedly going to go to Tehran and broker a peace deal there. I can hardly wait to see what that one looks like.

VAN SUSTEREN: Secretary Kerry spoke today. Your thoughts about what he had to say?

MCCAIN: Secretary Kerry said that he wanted things done and there is no fooling around. There is no delays, et cetera. But yet already we are hearing two things, one, that Basher Assad is moving around his chemical weapons. And he's moving them in a lot of ways. And also, they are not going to make the first deadline. The first deadline was this Saturday. At the time Kerry said they must submit within a week, not 30 days. In one week a comprehensive listing. No games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance.

Today the State Department spokesperson said our goal is to see forward momentum by Saturday, not the full list. Quote, "We never said it was a hard and fast deadline." Now which is it?

Again on this credibility issue if I could mention this. Today Vladimir Putin said, quote, "We have every reason to believe that it was," meaning the gas attack that killed 1,400 people, "We have every reason to believe it was a provocation, a sly and ingenious one." in other words we are dealing with people who still won't acknowledge that Bashar Assad, despite overwhelming evidence, that Bashar Assad was responsible for this chemical attack. How much should we trust the Russians when they still say that? And, by the way, they have also made it clear that if Bashar Assad fails to comply and we go to the United Nations, they will still veto a resolution.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have we been had or is it, even though it doesn't look particularly good it's worth a try to work within this framework?

MCCAIN: Where we are now, obviously we should try it where we are now. For the first time in history, the president of the United States said he would take military action and then said, but he was going to Congress. If he said, I want to take military action and I will get the endorsement of Congress, that's one thing. But to say you are going to act and then not, that's the old Napoleon line. If you say you are going to take Vienna, take Vienna.

We obviously ended up in a casual remark by the secretary of state about how Bashar Assad they must give up his chemical weapons, grabbed ahold of by that wily old fox, Sergey Lavrov. And now we are where we are.

And one of the aspects we know already, there's been no punishment. No punishment. In other words, Bashar Assad crossed the red line, gassed up 1,400 people, 400 of them children, and there has been no re tall United Nations. Maybe some will say getting ahold of his chemical weapons stock is retaliation. I'm not sure.

They are taking the appropriate lesson in Tehran and in Israel and in Pyongyang and all over the world. One of the leading Middle East rulers, one of the most influential ones, just made plans for a visit to Moscow. And of course now we hear Vladimir Putin is going to Tehran to be the peacemaker there. This has really turned into an Orwellian experience.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you.