McCain "puzzled" by controversy over wildfire comments

John McCain on NBC's "Today" show, June 21, 2011. NBC

 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday he was "puzzled" by recent criticismover comments he made suggesting illegal immigrants may have been responsible for some wildfires in Arizona, noting that he was merely conveying information from a forest service official who had briefed him prior to the press conference.

After a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service told ABC News on Sunday that there "absolutely" no evidence to support McCain's claims with regards to the Wallow Fire, McCain, during an appearance on NBC's "Today," emphasized that he had not been referencing that particular fire in his comments.

"I was not referring to the Wallow fire," he said. "The fact is, I just had been briefed on this situation by a forest service official."

"And we all know that people who come across our border illegally - according to the fire service, according to the border patrol, according to the local sheriffs and law enforcement agents - that these fires are sometimes, some of them have been caused by [illegal immigrants]," McCain continued.

"So again, I'm puzzled over that there should be any controversy since the fire service is on record as saying exactly what I just repeated, because I had been briefed on that just an hour or so before the press conference that we held," he continued.

Civil rights organizations attacked McCain for his comments, arguing that he was using the immigration issue to gain political traction.

A spokesman for McCain said on Monday, however, that the senator's comments referenced fires near the Arizona border.

According to McCain communications director Brooke Buchanan, McCain, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has requested a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding the possible connection between wildfires and illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. The report has not yet been released.

Buchanan, however, pointed to several reports over the past several years indicating that undocumented immigrants may have been involved in some wildfires in the past, although most of the reports also include "ricocheting bullets, campfires, welding equipment" and other factors as among many possible causes.

During the "Today" interview, McCain also dismissed any notion of the idea that he might run for president in the next election cycle.

"There's a long history of masochism in my family, but not so severe" as to inspire a 2012 presidential bid, he said.

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