One difficulty about a career in politics is that the longer you’re in the business, the longer a track record of quotes and video your opponents can scour to undercut you. It’s something former vice president Joe Biden is contending with as he enters the Democratic primary, and it’s an obstacle his old Senate colleague Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has run into in the wake of the Mueller report.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Graham spoke to host Margaret Brennan; naturally, much of the interview focused on Attorney General William P. Barr’s planned testimony to Congress this week. As the new chair of the Judiciary Committee, Graham has shown enthusiasm for thoroughly investigating some scandals through to the end, such as the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. He showed the same enthusiasm during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, when he was one of the House’s prosecutors during Clinton’s trial in the Senate.
But Graham’s doggedness has disappeared when it comes to a Republican White House, replaced by a deliberate ignorance. “From my point of view, I’ve heard all I need to really know,” he told Brennan. He reiterated the sentiment again and again, especially regarding Trump’s ordering then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller. “It doesn’t matter,” he told Brennan. “I don’t care what he said to Don McGahn. … I don’t care what happened between him and Don McGahn. … No, I’m — I’m done.”
Graham’s putting the energy he’s saving into moving goal posts. Asked what he wants the Barr hearings to focus on, Graham replied, “Does the report support his summary? Does the report actually indicate there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?” Graham left out, of course, that Mueller made no finding regarding the nonlegal concept of “collusion,” only one regarding the higher standard of criminal conspiracy. And he left out that there was significant evidence that individuals associated with the Trump campaign conspired with WikiLeaks over the release of stolen Democratic emails.
As for why he didn’t care about McGahn’s evidence, “If you’re going to look at every president who pops off at his staff and you know, ask him to do something that’s maybe crazy, then we won’t have any presidents.” Which is true, but that’s not the standard anyone is demanding. Democrats are suggesting that a president who orders his staff to obstruct an independent investigation maybe shouldn’t be president — hardly a crazy standard.
Then Graham had to face his past, as Brennan played his words from the Clinton impeachment trial.
The point I am trying to make is 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. Thank God you did that, because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.
Graham tried reconcile his hypocrisy. “What President Clinton did was interfere in a lawsuit against him by Paula Jones and others, hide the evidence, encourage people to lie. So, to me, he took the legal system and turned it upside down.”
Note the words “encourage people to lie.” Note that Graham didn’t say, “People lied with his encouragement.” That Clinton allegedly told people to lie was enough for Graham (then and now), regardless of whether the Democratic president’s entreaties were successful. But this president is a Republican, so Graham’s standard changes.
Graham is far from the first hypocritical politician. But the South Carolina senator particularly prides himself on being no-nonsense and on his legal experience. That he has opted for such an obvious double standard is especially shameless.