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While visiting Australia, Sen. John McCain calls Russia a threat ‘more so than ISIS’

SYDNEY — Meeting with Australian leaders on Monday for security talks in the nation’s capital, Arizona Sen. John McCain said Russia and Vladimir Putin present a bigger threat to the United States than ISIS.

“I think (Putin) is the premier and more important threat, more so than ISIS,” McCain told the Australian Broadcasting Corp in an interview. “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.

“But it is 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.”

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended an alleged effort by top White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to create back-channel communications with Russia as a “good thing.”

Asked about the accusations of the Trump team and its defense of its actions, McCain said, “I don’t like it.

“I know that some administration officials are saying, ‘Well, that’s standard procedure,’” he added. “I don’t think it is standard procedure prior to the inauguration of a president of the United States by someone who is not in an appointed position.”

McCain received praise for his public support of the decades-long U.S.-Australia alliance following a diplomatic spat between the two countries earlier this year.

In February, the Republican senator leaped to Australia’s defense after President Donald Trump got into a heated discussion with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over an Obama-era agreement on the resettlement of refugees.

When reports of the testy conversation went public, McCain quickly reached out to Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., and publicly praised Australia for its long history of military cooperation with the U.S. Australia has fought alongside America in every major conflict since World War I, and is one of the largest contributors to the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met with the senator in the nation’s capital, Canberra, where she made a point to thank him.

“Thank you for your very strong words of support for the alliance earlier this year,” Bishop told McCain. “We deeply appreciated it. It was wonderful to hear it from you.”

McCain told Bishop, “We’re certainly in very interesting times.”

Later, McCain received a warm welcome in Parliament House, where Turnbull praised the Vietnam War veteran for his service.

“As a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years, he selflessly — despite torture and cruelty — refused to be transferred back to the United States in advance of his colleagues,” Turnbull said in an address to lawmakers. “True leadership. True grit. True courage.”

McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was scheduled to visit the Australian War Memorial later Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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