The curious case of Lindsey Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham earned this week's nomination for a Profiles in Cowardice Award, Bootlicker Category. After Trump's election Graham placed whatever integrity he once laid claim to in a blind trust while serving among the president's champions on Capitol Hill, right down there in the nest of vipers with Congressmen Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes.


This week Graham plumbed new depths. Or maybe he is just a man with an open mind whose thinking has evolved in the direction of convenience. In March 2016 he declared that he would not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the November election. In his opinion Trump was not a reliable conservative, nor did he have the judgment and temperament to be commander in chief. He called Trump a kook and a jackass. "I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I'm not going with him" (Dana Bash).


The disregard was mutual. Trump said of Graham, "He’s one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.… The guy is a nut job" (Nolan McCaskill). Today the two are golfing buddies, no matter that the president routinely slanders Graham's great friend John McCain.


Graham has undergone a comparable metamorphosis on the subject of impeachment. In 1999, when Bill Clinton was in the crosshairs, Graham unwittingly laid out a justification for the impeachment of Donald Trump:


"You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."


These sentiments echo those of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 65, where he wrote that the subjects of jurisdiction for a court holding a trial of impeachment "are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust."


Contrast Graham's high seriousness in 1999 with his cavalier dismissal of concerns that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate spurious charges of corruption leveled at a political opponent: "Impeachment over this? What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger."


As a young man Graham served in the air force as a military lawyer. With this background he might be expected to come up with a rebuttal of the whistleblower complaint that went beyond screeching about hearsay, a line he clings to even after the allegations were largely corroborated by the summary of the phone call released by the White House and other developments. There is also the little matter of the Intelligence Community Inspector General's finding that the allegations were credible and of urgent concern. No less a Republican than Chuck Grassley, Graham's predecessor as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, shot down Graham's claim that the whistleblower complaint was illegitimate because it was not based on first-hand knowledge:


"This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected. We should always work to respect whistleblowers. Complaints based on second-hand information [what Graham refers to as hearsay] should not be rejected out of hand, but they do require additional leg work to get at the facts and evaluate the claim’s credibility." (Everett)


It may be that Lindsey Graham believes that Trump will take the Republican Party with him if he goes down. Under this scenario Graham's calculus is that by playing to the president's vanity and demand for personal loyalty he can put himself in a position to be a moderating influence and limit the damage done to his party and to the country. A less charitable interpretation might be that he is a serial sycophant adept at riding the coattails of powerful men, first John McCain, now Trump.


All the while the president spews venom about treason, spies, and coups while openly calling on foreign governments to investigate a political opponent with more than a wink and a nod to convey the message that cooperation will be rewarded and failure to do so will have its own consequences.


"There’s no halfway defensible ideological, intellectual, or moral standard that Trump doesn’t violate, often routinely. A cult of personality that replies 'Trump’s right' or 'his enemies are worse' before the question is even asked is the only place to hide." (Goldberg)


References, &c.


Much of the reference list that follows is simply a matter of documenting the record. Three pieces are I think worth checking out.


Simon Ostrovsky, reporting for the PBS NewsHour, traveled to Ukraine, where he interviewed the former president, a member of parliament who was the first to call for the dismissal of prosecutor Victor Shokin, well before Joe Biden entered the picture, and the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv. All three dispute the Trump/Giuliani narrative. Shokin declined to be interviewed.


Tim Miller at the The Bulwark "dove deep into the MAGA web, suffered through several slurry interviews with Rudy, and even watched a couple Hannity segments…to put together…the definitive version of events according to Trump and his most obsequious allies." Miller lays out how truly convoluted, paranoiac, and just plain weird the Trumpist tale is.


What I have presented here is only one side of Lindsey Graham. I think it is fair as far as it goes, but it only goes so far. Lisa Miller's piece at NY Mag fleshes out the picture. As with most of us, it is complicated.



David Matthews

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