After an interesting mix of questions landing at former FBI Director James Comey, Senator John McCain was at the tail end of questioners. Viewers were expecting some hard questions to come, but what they go was a lot of frowning faces.

Even the unflappable Comey seemed a little stunned when McCain confused him with Donald Trump and called him President Comey. After Senators like Marco Rubio tried half-heartedly to appease Trump with looking like they were trying to clear his name with Comey, McCain’s felt like a setup for an SNL skit.

McCain has been tough on Trump’s antics, but it felt more like someone had replaced him with a confused sometimes incoherent body double trying to take some of the blunt off the president.

Mr. McCain, 80, Republican of Arizona, said he believed there was a “double standard” because an investigation into the use of a private email server by Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, was completed in July, while an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential campaign continues.

“In the case of Hillary Clinton, you made the statement that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to bring a suit against her, although it had been very careless in their behavior, but you did reach a conclusion in that case that it was not necessary to further pursue her,” McCain’s line of questioning began. “Yet at the same time, in the case of Mr. [Trump], you said that there was not enough information to make a conclusion. Tell me the difference between your conclusion as far as former secretary Clinton is concerned, and Mr. Trump.”

“It’s hard to reconcile: In one case you reach a complete conclusion, and the other side you have not,” he said.

He added: “She’s one of the candidates, but in her case, you say there will be no charges, and in the case of President Trump, the investigation continues.”

Comey answered that the Clinton email investigation was a completed, closed investigation at the time he announced in July that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against her, while the Russia investigation is still underway and could be for some time.

But McCain wasn’t satisfied. He seemed to be arguing that Comey exonerated Clinton, in a sense, but left an investigation looming over President Trump, setting a double standard.

Comey again tried to explain that he discussed the findings of the Clinton investigation only after it was completed.

“That investigation was going on. This investigation was going on. You reached separate conclusions,” McCain said. Comey explained, for the third time, that the Clinton investigation was about an email server and was concluded in July.

That’s when it got really weird.

Following a yearlong investigation, Mr. Comey, then the director of the F.B.I., announced on July 5 that he recommended no criminal charges for Ms. Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was secretary of state.

“You’re gonna have to help me out here,” McCain said. Comey replied that he was confused. In the video above, you can watch the entire exchange. But it boiled down to one point.

“I think it’s hard to reconcile, in one case you reach a complete conclusion, and on the other side you have not,” McCain said. “I think that’s a double standard there, to tell you the truth.”

Well, of course. The Clinton email investigation ended more than 11 months ago, while the Russia investigation continues. It was a bizarre argument from McCain, who appeared annoyed with Comey. Was he arguing that Comey should publicly exonerate Trump before the Russia investigation is finished? Was he arguing that Comey didn’t investigate Clinton vigorously enough? Was he arguing that the FBI applied different standards to the two candidates?

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, many Trump supporters had similar responses. Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, said on Twitter that Mr. McCain was “making no sense.”

Some of his colleagues, who didn’t want to be identified, were worried about his well-being after his performance. Others on social media, including political critics, shared the sentiment.

Mr. McCain’s office issued a statement explaining why he wandered during questioning, nodding to the immediate response on social media.

“I get the sense from Twitter that my line of questioning today went over people’s heads,” the senator said. “Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games,” he said, referring to the Arizona baseball team.

It seems more like he had actually gotten in over his own head.

He continued:

“What I was trying to get at was whether Mr. Comey believes that any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice. In the case of Secretary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Comey was willing to step beyond his role as an investigator and state his belief about what ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would conclude about the evidence. I wanted Mr. Comey to apply the same approach to the key question surrounding his interactions with President Trump — whether or not the President’s conduct constitutes obstruction of justice. While I missed an opportunity in today’s hearing, I still believe this question is important, and I intend to submit it in writing to Mr. Comey for the record.”

 

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