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Trump calls Senate ally Lindsey Graham a ‘RINO’ over differences in pardoning Jan. 6 rioters

Then-President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) during an event at the White House in 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former president Donald Trump castigated Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of his closest allies in the Senate, as a “RINO” for disagreeing with him over whether some Trump supporters being prosecuted in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection deserve presidential pardons.

“Well, Lindsey Graham’s wrong. I mean, Lindsey’s a nice guy, but he’s a RINO,” Trump said in an interview aired Tuesday night on Newsmax, using the acronym for “Republican in name only,” a term used by Republicans to insult those they don’t believe belong in the party.

“Lindsey Graham doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about if he says that,” Trump added later in the interview, during which he continued to advocate for pardons for many Jan. 6 rioters, calling some of them “patriots.”

In a statement Wednesday, Graham made no mention of Trump but stood by his position that he does not favor pardons.

“For us to remain a nation of laws, not men, we must speak with one voice when it comes to politically motivated violence,” Graham said. “All Americans are entitled to have a speedy trial and their day in court, but those who actively engage in violence for whatever political cause must be held accountable and not be forgiven.”

Separately, Trump said in a legal filing this week that the arguments of Capitol Police officers injured in the attack who are suing him “grasp at straws” and that the blame for violence that day belongs with congressional and municipal leaders in Washington.

Trump suggests that if he is reelected, he will pardon Jan. 6 Capitol rioters

Trump first dangled the prospect of pardons for Jan. 6 rioters at a rally Saturday in Texas. If he is reelected in 2024, he said, “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Graham was among several prominent Republicans who later pushed back against Trump’s comments. During an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Graham called the suggestion of clemency for those accused in the Capitol riot “inappropriate.”

“I don’t want to reinforce that defiling the Capitol was okay,” Graham said. Those who stormed the Capitol, he added, should “go to jail and get the book thrown at them, because they deserve it.”

While Graham was initially critical of Trump’s actions related to the insurrection, he has emerged as one of the biggest cheerleaders for another Trump run for the White House.

In an interview last month on Fox News, for example, Graham called Trump “the most consequential Republican since Ronald Reagan” and said he could handily win the GOP nomination if he wanted it and be reelected president in 2024.

Graham also said he would not support Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for reelection as the Senate GOP leader if he did not build a better “working relationship” with Trump. The former president has repeatedly taken aim at McConnell recently for perceived shortcomings as a leader.

“If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with President Donald Trump,” said Graham, who has played golf with Trump on multiple occasions.

McConnell did not fully embrace Trump’s suggestion of pardons for Jan. 6 rioters, telling reporters Tuesday that “I would not be in favor of shortening any of the sentences for any of the people who pleaded guilty to crimes.”

During the Newsmax interview, Trump continued to insist that Jan. 6 rioters were being treated more harshly than “radical left people” involved in protests by groups such as antifa and Black Lives Matter.

“I would absolutely give them a pardon if things don’t work out fairly,” Trump said of the Jan. 6 rioters being prosecuted.

He said the punishments being meted out to his supporters were “like 20 times out of proportion.”

“Some of these people are not guilty. Many of these people are not guilty,” Trump said. “In many cases, they’re patriots. They’re soldiers. They’re policemen.”

Trump also sought to downplay the violence of the day.

“Don’t forget, with the exception of one young fine woman, nobody died on January 6,” he claimed. “Nobody died on January 6. They like to say five people, but nobody died on January 6. … The one person who died was Ashli Babbitt. She was killed by a ruthless man that never should have used his gun to shoot her.”

Babbitt was fatally shot by a U.S. Capitol Police officer as she attempted to climb through the broken window of a door inside the Capitol and enter an area where members of Congress and staff were being protected. An internal investigation cleared a Capitol Police officer of any wrongdoing.

In the days and weeks after the Jan. 6 attack, five officers who had served at the Capitol that day also died, several by suicide.

Three other Trump supporters at the Capitol that day also died. The medical examiner determined that two deaths were due to natural causes and a third to a drug overdose.

More than 140 police officers were injured in connection with the insurrection.

In a legal filing Monday, lawyers for Trump pushed back against claims of Capitol Police officers that Trump had conspired with members of right-wing militia groups, among others, to trigger the attempt on Jan. 6 to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

“The facts in this case are clear,” the filing said. “President Trump acted promptly and reasonably to prevent danger and damage on January 6, 2021. Other congressional and D.C. leadership did not. Plaintiffs now seek to twist the facts in a blatant attempt to hold the wrong parties liable for the damage they suffered.”

David Brody, a lawyer for the officers, told Bloomberg News that they stand by their claims.

“We are confident that our amended complaint alleged in detail former president Trump’s participation in the unlawful conspiracy and other unlawful acts,” Brody said. “The former president, by his own words and deeds, sought to illegally overturn the outcome of the election in a manner unprecedented in American history.”