Lindsey Graham Has Always Been a Political Parasite
At this point, it's clear Donald Trump and his pet toad of an attorney general represent an imminent threat to the American republic.
William Barr, the president's fixer AG, has flouted Congress, a co-equal branch of government whose oversight powers over the Executive Branch are laid out in the Constitution, to the point that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler today suggested he could be held in contempt. On Wednesday, Barr was unable to deny before a Senate committee that the president has suggested he launch criminal investigations into the president's political opponents, and Thursday The New York Times reported Trump has done just that. Barr is technically overseeing multiple ongoing investigations into Donald Trump, his associates, and organizations he's run, while clearly serving as the president's personal lawyer-not the nation's top law-enforcement officer. He is compromised.
Against this backdrop, it was stunning, even after all this time, to watch the performance of Lindsey Graham on Wednesday. The South Carolina Republican is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, before which Barr performed his sleazy routine in Trump's defense. Graham refused to be left out of the fun.
"After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller and his team concluded there was no collusion," Graham said, echoing Trump's spin on the report that-shocker-is not accurate.
The Mueller Report did not assess whether there was "collusion," which is not a legal term. It assessed there was insufficient evidence to charge members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with the Russian government in its influence operation. This is a narrow assessment with a high threshold, and meanwhile, there were extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians-including when Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort shared internal campaign polling data on key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan with Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate linked to Russian intelligence and Putin crony Oleg Deripaska. This does not need to rise to criminal conspiracy for it to constitute entirely unacceptable-and previously unthinkable-behavior from a United States presidential campaign.
(Oh, and by the way: by Time's estimate, the Mueller investigation cost between $32 and $35 million. But Mueller also seized tens of millions in property and alleged ill-gotten gains from Manafort as part of his plea agreement. Meanwhile, previous independent counsel investigations were far more expensive, according to the Washington Post: we spent $47.4 million digging into the Iran-Contra affair-which Mr. Barr also played a role in defusing-and spent $69 million (nice) investigating Bill Clinton for eight years (!) between 1994 and 2002. Those totals are not even adjusted for inflation.)
On the second major question in the report, Graham may have been worse. "As to obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide," he said. "After two years and all this time, he said to Mr. Barr 'you decide' and Mr. Barr did."
This is simply false: the report was clearly written for Congress and the public, so that the American people could decide whether the president's conduct detailed therein was befitting of his office. Barr got in the job a month before the report was released, but we're supposed to believe Mueller wanted his two years of work to be solely assessed by the guy who authored a 19-page memo before he got the job in which he attacked the probe, specifically on the question of obstruction? Barr admitted under questioning from Senator Kamala Harris yesterday that he did not review the underlying evidence before making a judgment on the obstruction-of-justice case. He rendered the same opinion he had in that 19-page cover letter he wrote while seeking the job.
Anyway, it's all just the latest sign that Lindsey Graham is one of the most irredeemable hacks in recent American history, a stunning achievement considering what the national legislature has served up in recent years. He is so obviously a principle-free puppet of the president because, not so long ago, he was singing a very different tune. At the hearing Wednesday, Graham made a spectacle of reading texts from 2016 between FBI officials who were involved in the Hillary Clinton email probe, in which they suggested Trump was not an ideal candidate to be President of the United States. This was supposed to prove that the whole investigation into Trump was rooted in political bias.
But as Lawrence O'Donnell demonstrated last night, Graham was saying the exact same things at the exact same time, in public and on television.
If you're keeping score, Graham is now running interference for a president who behaves erratically and continually abuses the powers of his office when he once said the same man was a "kook" who's "crazy" and "unfit for office." Now that Trump is the world's most powerful man, he is behaving exactly as Graham said he would, yet Graham now defends the same man and the same behavior. If there is a more comprehensive case study of the Republican Party's descent into a kleptocratic authoritarian racket, it's yet to present itself.
This transformation was also neatly laid out in Harper's a while back.
What an absolute disgrace. John McCain's legacy was inflated by historic proportions on his death, but it increasingly seems he was the only thing tethering Graham to any kind of honor, or ethics, or principle in public service. It now seems that while Graham might have seen McCain as a friend, he was more interested in him as a political benefactor, gobbling up the gravitas and the power like a Hungry Hungry Hippo. Now that McCain has died, Graham has simply chosen a new benefactor. Never mind that Trump dragged his old friend's name through the mud, ridiculing his service in Vietnam at the time where Trump was dodging the draft by claiming he had "bone spurs." Later, Trump would tell Howard Stern that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in 1970s New York was his "personal Vietnam."
There are many lessons from The Trump Era, particularly when it comes to the conservative movement. The cruelty is the point. The most important part of "White Evangelical Christian" is white. The very concept of public service has begun to collapse, as the Trump administration has completely corrupted the Executive Branch and defenestrated the concepts of ethics or conflicts of interest. And members of the Republican Party are now split into two groups: the True Believers and the cynical opportunists who will do anything to stay in Washington.
Do you really think Graham has watched Trump's behavior in office and come to the conclusion that he is the right man for the job? No, he's just the political parasite he's always been. But nobody who attaches themselves to Trump makes it out. Nobody.