At today’s hearing, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) played pretty fast and loose with the facts.
At Attorney General William P. Barr’s hearing on Wednesday, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee had a chance to clarify key issues related to Barr’s release of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Trump.
Instead, in his opening statement, Graham mischaracterized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and how damaging it was for Trump. He misstated key facts. He raised conspiracy theories about how the Russia investigation got started in the first place.
Even for a senator who has cozied up to the president and is up for reelection next year in a state that voted for Trump, the overtly pro-Trump display on Graham’s part was unusual. Here’s what Graham said in the opening moments of the Barr hearing:
On the obstruction-of-justice charge: “Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide after two years.”
Mueller said he couldn’t exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, and he laid out all the ways he thought Trump might have committed a crime. Then Mueller left it up to Congress to decide.
The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.
“No collusion, no coordination, no conspiracy.”
Graham’s attempt to summarize the Mueller report’s findings is misleading, at best. The report did not assess whether there was collusion, because “collusion” isn’t a legal term.
Mueller’s team investigated whether there was coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russians that would constitute conspiracy to coordinate with a foreign power. They found that Trump’s campaign welcomed help from the Russians — by, say, expressing interest in getting dirt from them on Hillary Clinton or encouraging the hacking of her emails.
In the end, Mueller did not find coordination that would constitute a crime. But he never explicitly said there was “no collusion.” Trump, Barr and Graham have said that.
“He was never removed. He was allowed to do his job,” Graham says of Mueller.
This is true. But Graham glosses over a finding in the Mueller report that Trump tried to fire Mueller. Several times. The only reason this and other obstruction-like actions didn’t happen, Mueller concludes, is because Trump’s aides didn’t carry out his orders.
“There were zero instances of Trump impeding Mueller. Zero.”
This is not true. According to Mueller’s report, Trump did try to fire Mueller. (“Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it,” Trump told then-White House counsel Donald McGahn in a call, according to the report.)
And when Trump’s former campaign head Paul Manafort was charged with crimes stemming from the Mueller investigation, Trump dangled pardoning Manafort, the Mueller report found. “The president intended to encourage Manafort not to cooperate with the government,” the report reads. Trump “intended Manafort to believe he could receive a pardon.” The president also ridiculed people in his orbit who cooperated with Mueller.
Graham read texts from former FBI agents criticizing Trump in 2016.
Graham quoted a text from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that used the f-word to describe Trump. This isn’t incorrect, but it’s hypocritical and misleading. In 2016, Graham would have agreed with Strzok and Page’s assessment of Trump the candidate. Graham publicly said he thought Trump was a “jackass” and a “kook” and “a con man” and “unfit for office.” And Graham seems to be suggesting that the whole probe was corrupt because of some texts, something that the facts don’t bear out.
“When the Mueller report is put to bed, and it soon will be, this committee is going to look long and hard on how this all started. We’re going to look at the FISA warrant process.”
Graham spent a significant portion of his limited time looking back at the origins of the Russia probe. Trump and his conservative allies have long tried to argue that the probe was put together on false pretenses, despite the rigorous protocols in place to avoid such politicization of the FBI, most especially in how agents get warrants to surveil people. (The Justice Department’s independent watchdog is investigating the FBI’s warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but there is no indication there was any wrongdoing.)
And never mind that a Trump appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, is the one who created the special counsel investigation and oversaw much of it. Graham also spent time criticizing Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — a point of contention so out of date that not even Trump talks about this anymore.
In the opening moments of this hearing, Graham made his allegiances clear. He’s going to use his significant weight as head of this committee not to investigate whether the president committed a crime or obstructed an independent investigation or lied to the American people, per the Mueller report. He’s going to put all that aside and dig into conspiracy theories about how the investigation got started in the first place.
That aligns with what Trump wants done. It seems like Graham conducted this hearing not for the American people, but to appeal to Trump.