Every time I think of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which is a lot these days, Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” starts in my head and Chris Martin belts out lyrics that seem to have been written for him: “I used to rule the world / seas would rise when I gave the word / now in the morning, I sleep alone / sweep the streets I used to own.”
Graham might not be ready for the dustbin yet, but his mojo sure seems to have hit “pause.” The man who once delighted news organizations — the reporter’s go-to guy for quips and quotes — has morphed before our eyes into an obsequious footman to a reality-show hoodlum.
I’ve asked myself and been asked dozens of times, what the hell happened to Lindsey?
Why, indeed, would someone of Graham’s standing — as a well-liked and respected veteran, a Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer, senator and a Good Man, who raised his sister after their parents died — why would he surrender his dignity and reputation to a loudmouth hustler such as Donald Trump? Well, there’s this: South Carolina voters who like Trump wouldn’t give Graham a cracker crumb if he wandered too far from Trump’s shadow.
Still, locals have long insisted there must be something at work in Graham’s metamorphosis. Dirt? Scandal? Video? Graham is on record saying his loyalty to Trump was his way to stay relevant. Let me offer a charitable translation: By staying close to Trump, Graham believed he could dissuade the former real estate magnate from some of his worst impulses. This was nice to believe for a while, but through the years, it became increasingly difficult to reconcile the Graham who served as Sen. John McCain’s wingman with President Donald Trump’s grateful caddie.
"I used to roll the dice/ feel the fear in my enemies’ eyes/ listen as the crowd would sing/ now the old king is dead, long live the king."
Graham’s petulant dismissal of a recent subpoena from a special grand jury in Georgia regarding possible 2020 election improprieties has eliminated any facsimile of the guy who was funny because he always told the truth. What mysteries remain to Graham’s character could be illuminated next month now that a superior court judge has ordered him to appear before the grand jury. The order came in response to Graham’s attorneys’ statement that the senator had no intention of honoring the Fulton County district attorney’s subpoena.
I hate to say it, but Graham’s reaction is so gone-with-the-wind. Cue Southern accent: A subpoena? Why, what on earth for?
Graham’s insistence that the subpoena and investigation are “all politics” is hardly cause for goose bumps. Given that everything under the sun is nowadays political, Team Graham might have a point. But as most literate citizens and, presumably, all lawyers know, a subpoena isn’t an invitation. It’s a legal order. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, describing Graham as a “necessary and material witness,” has made this clear.
The logic behind the subpoena, meanwhile, would seem unassailable. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has stated that Graham contacted him after the election to question the validity of ballots that were legally cast. Raffensperger told CNN in November 2021 that the “implication” was that he should “look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out.” Graham called this allegation “ridiculous.”
Allowing Graham some slack, it is normally fair to note that one man’s inference isn’t necessarily another man’s implication. Can’t a senator pose a question in the hope that some ballots might be challenged without crossing a legal line? To paraphrase another lawyer-turned-politician, I guess it depends on what your definition of “implication” is.
Maybe Graham can shed some light on that distinction when he appears on Aug. 2. He could still resist the judge’s order, though legal experts have argued convincingly that claiming executive privilege doesn’t apply. Norm Eisen of the Brookings Institution recently tweeted: “A federal senator contacting a state official to selectively disqualify ballots is a political act, not an official one.”
Being held in contempt wouldn’t do much for Graham’s credibility, though in some quarters back home, it would probably boost his popularity. For all we know, contempt might be a more appealing option than trying to explain himself. But my guess is he will testify in part because he has great confidence in his ability to explain himself. Graham, assuming he wasn’t trying to pressure Raffensperger, would relish the confrontation. Optimally, Graham has nothing to worry about and should view his testimony as an opportunity to hammer home his commitment to the rule of law.
Or not, in which case, that song again: "People couldn’t believe what I’d become/ and revolutionaries wait/ for my head on a silver plate/ just a puppet on a lonely string/ Aw, who would ever wanna be king?"
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