In Death, McCain Thumbs Nose at Trump and Putin by Picking Russian Dissident as Pallbearer

August 30, 2018, 12:18 AM UTC

John McCain’s dislike of President Donald Trump wasn’t hidden. But in death, the long-time Senator from Arizona has made sure his attitude won’t be forgotten. Months ago, he asked a Russian dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza, to be one of his pallbearers. Kara-Murza said he immediately agreed. He told Politico, “I was speechless and heartbroken, close to tears at that moment.” McCain died of causes related to cancer on August 25.

An implacable and long-term foe of Russia under Putin, McCain was called by Kremlin-affiliated media “an implacable enemy of Russia” after his death. Kara-Murza and McCain were brought together starting in 2010 through connections to Boris Nemtsov, a Putin critic once in the government, who was shot to death near the Kremlin in 2015, in what has widely been seen as a state-ordered killing.

Kara-Murza chairs Open Russia, a pro-democracy group. He has twice been hospitalized for poisoning, both times slipping into a coma and experiencing organ failure. While he lay in a coma for a second time, Trump said in an unrelated interview that he respected Putin and tried to make an equivalency between Putin and America: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”

On the Senate floor, McCain said in response that Kara-Murza “knew that Putin is a killer. Vladimir knew that there was no moral equivalence between the United States and Putin’s Russia.” He called Putin a “butcher and thug and KGB colonel.”

McCain also requested that two previous presidents deliver eulogies, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, despite having little relationship with Obama, and after bitter acrimony with Bush in the 2000 election. McCain made it clear privately he didn’t want Trump to attend.

The Arizona senator also had a former campaign manager deliver a statement that McCain had written to be read after his death. In those remarks, McCain said, “Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.”

Trump, meanwhile—in initially delaying honoring McCain with a statement and keeping the White House flag at half staff—has faced widespread criticism from veterans, centrist Republicans, and even religious and hard-right pundits and politicians.

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