WASHINGTON // The Republican senator John McCain has leapt across the political aisle to defend a top aide of Democrat Hillary Clinton's accused of conspiring with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Mr McCain railed against accusations from five legislators in his own party, including the former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, that Huma Abedin is somehow part of a Brotherhood conspiracy to influence US foreign policy.
Ms Abedin, who is in her mid-30s, is a long-time aide of Mrs Clinton, the secretary of state, who has travelled around the world with her and acted as her chief of staff during her losing 2008 tilt for the White House.
Mr McCain's intervention, delivered on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, was surprising as it came against the backdrop of stark polarisation in America's bitter politics as the rival camps in Washington gear up for November elections.
"Rarely do I come to the floor of this institution to discuss particular individuals," Mr McCain said to open his remarks.
"But I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person's character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness. It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defence of Huma Abedin."
Mr McCain said he had come to know Ms Abedin over many years as a devoted public servant whose "decency, warmth, and good humour" shone through as she "devoted countless days of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves".
Ms Abedin, a Muslim, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1976 but moved with her family to Saudi Arabia when she was two. Her father was born in India under British rule and her mother is Pakistani.
"Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit," Mr McCain said. Five members of Congress, including Mrs Bachmann, wrote a letter to the deputy inspector general of the State Department alleging the conspiracy and also demanding an investigation. "These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honourable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant," said Mr McCain, who lost the battle for the US presidency to Barack Obama in 2008.
He went on to dismiss the accusations, explaining that one member of Ms Abedin's family alleged to be part the conspiracy, her father, had actually passed away two decades ago. "These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma's family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way," Mr McCain said.
"These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now."