During an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham rose to President Trump’s defense after Trump disparaged the woman who first accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
It was a “degrading, personal attack,” Goldberg said to the South Carolina Republican, seeking Graham’s response.
“Well, you know,” Graham replied, “here’s what’s personally degrading.”
He turned to the audience.
“Here’s what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill,” Graham said.
The audience — and social media, once the clip leaked out — reacted with anger. Graham was implying that Christine Blasey Ford was accusing Kavanaugh of assault because she was offered money? And what’s more, he was implying in offensive terms that she was low-class or poor?
He was not. Instead, Graham’s defense of Trump, including that line, took a different, familiar tack: What about the Clintons?
That “trailer park” line was a reference to a comment made by James Carville, an adviser to Bill Clinton. After Paula Jones accused Clinton of exposing himself to her in a hotel room in 1991, that was Carville’s response: “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”
Jones filed a lawsuit against President Clinton in 1994 that led to Clinton being deposed under oath. It was that testimony that included Clinton’s denial of a relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and that led to a perjury charge in the 1998 effort to impeach him and remove him from office.
The impeachment involved a trial before the Senate in which a member of the House served as prosecutor. That prosecutor was Lindsey Graham.
The fuller context of Graham’s conversation with Goldberg makes it clear that he wasn’t disparaging Ford but, instead, was making repeated reference to the allegations Clinton faced two decades ago.
GOLDBERG: If the president is listening to you right now—
GRAHAM: And he could be, because he watches a lot of television!
(Side note: This is clearly accurate.)
GOLDBERG: If he’s listening right now, what would you say to him about his performance last night in which he openly disparaged a person who alleges she was a victim of sexual assault by his Supreme Court nominee?
GRAHAM: I'd say, hey, I can figure this out. Everything he said was factual. He's frustrated his nominee has been treated so badly—
GOLDBERG: Factual? It’s a personal, degrading attack on someone who’s a private citizen—
GRAHAM: Well, you know — you know, here’s what’s personally degrading: “Here’s what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill.” See, this is not the first time this has happened.
GOLDBERG: That's actually a reference to something somebody said.
GRAHAM: James Carville. See, most of you all are too young to remember this. The bottom line is, I know what can happen to a woman who comes forward in a political environment.
Dr. Ford, I thought, was treated respectfully by [the Republican-hired prosecutor] Ms. Mitchell. I’m glad she did it. She was boring. Boring’s okay.
So, I’ve been a prosecutor most of my — defense attorney and judge before I got in this business. For every woman who comes forward, God knows how many never say a word and take it to their grave. Sometimes people are accused of something they didn’t do.
So President Trump went through a factual rendition that I didn’t like, and I would tell him knock it off. You’re not helping. But it can be worse. You can actually kill somebody’s cat and puncture their tires to get them to shut up, so, what he said—
GOLDBERG: I don't even understand what that means.
GRAHAM: Well, you don’t remember Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick, so you don’t. I do. I was impeachment—
Goldberg interrupts here, but it’s worth focusing on this section, because it gets to Graham’s point. The cat and the tires are references to claims by Willey, a former White House staffer who alleges Clinton groped her, and Broaddrick, who alleges that she was raped by Clinton in the late 1970s.
During the investigation into Clinton during his second term, Willey claimed that someone had driven nails into her car’s tires. In a book published a decade ago, Willey alleged that the Clintons hired someone to kill her cat. Willey’s allegations were subject to significant questions at the time.
Again, though, the argument is more broadly of the now-familiar Trump-vs.-Clinton form. Even that tires-slashed-cat-killed formulation is familiar: It’s the same one Trump ally Roger Stone used in a Breitbart interview disparaging Hillary Clinton in 2015.
Goldberg and Graham then got to that point.
GOLDBERG: Well, I don't remember the thing about the cat. But what's the point—
GRAHAM: Her cat was—
GOLDBERG: The point is that Donald Trump could have said something worse, so we should be thankful?
GRAHAM: The point is that we've come a long way. We've come a long way since 1998—
GOLDBERG: All right, all right, all right. It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine.
GRAHAM: Now wait a minute. Whether you like it or not I really don’t care. I have seen what happened to these women in 1998 that came forward. I don’t like what the president said last night. I’m the first person to say, I want to hear it from Dr. Ford.
The way allegations against Bill Clinton were handled was often unfair and cringeworthy, as the Carville quote makes clear. To Goldberg’s point, though, that doesn’t give Trump a pass on his handling of Ford, just as many of the myriad other comparisons between Trump and Clinton that are now so commonplace are often stretches of whataboutism that crumble under objective consideration.
Graham’s argument is literally and exclusively Bill Clinton did it, too. That argument can be judged on its own merits.
The senator then put a fine point on his view of the current allegations.
“I thought she was handled respectfully,” he said, referring to Ford. “I thought Kavanaugh was treated like crap.”
The audience booed.
“Yeah, well, boo yourself,” Graham replied.