A nine-minute Fox News appearance last year has earned Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) a public admonishment from the Senate Ethics Committee because, during it, he solicited campaign contributions for former Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker while standing on Capitol grounds.
The committee issued only a public admonition but no sanction in response to Graham’s actions.
Per the committee’s investigation, on Nov. 30, Graham conducted an interview with Fox News in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. The Republican senator spent four out of nine minutes in the interview talking about the 2022 Senate runoff race in Georgia between Walker and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.).
Republicans then saw the race as an opportunity to pick up a Senate seat from Democrats, and Graham was one of Walker’s most ferocious backers in the Senate. Ultimately, however, Warnock defeated Walker in the increasingly purple state, giving Democrats a slim majority in the chamber.
The Senate committee, upon reviewing the November interview, concluded that Graham “directly solicited campaign contributions on behalf of Mr. Walker’s campaign committee, www.teamherschel.com, five separate times.”
In the letter, Coons and Lankford acknowledged that Graham self-reported his actions to them.
“It was a mistake. I take responsibility. I will try to do better in the future,” Graham said in a statement Friday.
The committee also noted that this is not the first time Graham violated Senate rules banning fundraising appeals on federal property.
According to the letter, on Oct. 14, 2020, immediately after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Graham participated in an “unplanned media interview” in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, during which he “directly solicited campaign contributions” to his reelection campaign committee in response to a reporter’s question regarding his fundraising efforts.
At the time, the Judiciary Committee was in the midst of confirmation hearings for now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Graham, then chair of the committee, was fending off an election challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison. Asked by a reporter if the Coney Barrett hearings would affect his standing in the Senate race, Graham responded by making a fundraising appeal.
“I don’t know how much it affected fundraising today, but if you want to help me close the gap — LindseyGraham.com — a little bit goes a long way,” Graham said. “I feel really good about my campaign.”
In the Thursday letter to Graham, Coons and Lankford explained that they dismissed the 2020 complaint — issuing instead a private warning to Graham — because the committee concluded that his conduct then, despite violating Senate standards, was the result of “inadvertent, technical, or otherwise of a de minimis nature.”
The Ethics Committee has taken little public action in recent years. The last time it issued a public letter of admonition was in April 2018, when it reprimanded Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) after a mistrial was declared in a months-long bribery case against him. The committee’s standards allow for it to issue private letters of admonishment, which means the public is unlikely to hear about complaints resolved this way.
In the Thursday letter, Coons and Lankford noted that Graham broke the Senate’s rules on fundraising in 2022 despite having been given a private warning about his October 2020 fundraising wrongdoing.
“The public must feel confident that Members use public resources only for official actions in the best interests of the United States, not for partisan political activity,” Coons and Lankford wrote. “Your actions failed to uphold that standard, resulting in harm to the public trust and confidence in the United States Senate.”
“You are hereby admonished,” they concluded.
Despite the public and private admonishments, Coons and Graham are longtime friends and frequent companions on congressional delegation travels abroad. Most recently, the two traveled last month to the Munich Security Conference in a bipartisan “codel” that paid tribute to their late friend, former senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Paul Kane contributed to this report.