03:16 - Source: CNN
Debate gets heated over candidate's past
Washington CNN  — 

Republican Rep. Martha McSally demanded an apology on Monday night from her Democratic opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, at a debate in Arizona for what she called “treason,” seizing on an element of a CNN report that details the Democrat’s anti-war activist past.

CNN’s KFile reported that in 2003, Sinema told a local radio host when he posed a hypothetical about an individual making the personal decision to join the Taliban army, “Fine, I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead.”

At the debate Monday night, McSally offered her interpretation of Sinema’s comments to attack her, saying, “you said it was OK for Americans to join the Taliban to fight against us.”

“You said you had no problem with that. Kyrsten, I want to ask right now whether you’re going to apologize to the veterans and me for saying it’s OK to commit treason.”

McSally was citing the CNN KFile report that details Sinema’s extensive past as a progressive activist and how her views on foreign policy and military involvement have evolved.

Sinema appeared on the radio show of local libertarian activist Ernest Hancock in 2003. Sinema and Hancock discussed their political views, with Hancock taking up the libertarian argument against intervention and raising as a hypothetical against Sinema’s worldview if she would oppose him joining the Taliban army.

“Now you would say, maybe we do owe something to the world, as long as it’s nice and sweet and peaceful and what you want to do,” Hancock said to Sinema on his show, “Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock.”

“Well it’s not so much a candy cane kind of theory as you’re making it stand out,” Sinema responded. “But I do think that those of us who are privileged to have more do owe something to others.”

“By force?” Hancock asked. “By me, as an individual, if I want to go fight in the Taliban army, I go over there and I’m fighting for the Taliban. I’m saying that’s a personal decision…”

“Fine,” Sinema interjected, “I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead.”

After Hancock listed off other hypotheticals, Sinema then said she’d like to get back on topic to her opposition to the Iraq War.

“I don’t want to debate any kind of, I don’t know, fiscal opportunities with you,” Sinema said. “I’m interested in talking about the war. Specifically I’m interested in talking about opposition to the war that’s happening tomorrow.”

Helen Hare, a spokeswoman for the Sinema campaign, told CNN that Sinema’s comment on Hancock’s program was “clearly offhand and an effort to get back on the topic of why she opposed the war.”

At Monday’s debate, Sinema responded to McSally by saying, “Well, Martha has chosen to run a campaign like the one you’re seeing right now where she’s engaging in ridiculous attacks and smearing my campaign.”

“And she’s just trying to cut, cut, cut and not share the full picture,” Sinema said. “But the truth is that I’ve always fought for Arizona and I have been proud to serve our state and elected office for over 13 years. Arizonans know me and they know my record.”

Sinema later told reporters McSally’s attack was “ridiculous,” Hare told CNN Tuesday. McSally’s campaign has not responded to CNN’s request for comment about Monday night’s debate.

Since joining Congress, Sinema has a more moderate political image. She voted against approving the Iran deal and, this past April, backed President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria. In 2015, she voted with Republicans to stop admitting Syrian and Iraqi refugees until the vetting process was strengthened.

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Massie contributed to this report.