Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham on Sunday pushed back against White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s recent downplaying of Russian interference in the 2016 election, calling Moscow’s actions a “big deal” deserving of new sanctions immediately.
Still, the South Carolina Republican insisted President Trump had done nothing wrong, citing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s refusal to charge Trump with either conspiracy or obstruction of justice in the Russia probe.
“I think the idea that this president obstructed justice is absurd,” Graham, a fierce Trump ally, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “I can’t think of one thing that President Trump did to stop Mueller from doing his job. . . . I’ve heard all I need to really know.”
During the interview, however, Graham challenged the assertion by Trump’s son-in-law in a Time magazine interview on Tuesday that Russia’s bid to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor amounted to a “couple of Facebook ads” — and that Mueller’s investigation was more damaging to the country than the Russian effort.
“You look at what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent . . . and it’s a terrible thing,” Kushner said last week. “But I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.”
Graham said Sunday that although “I like Jared a lot,” he’s “leaving out a big detail” — namely that the Russians hacked the emails of the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee.
“Can you imagine what we would be saying if the Russians or the Iranians hacked into the presidential team of the Republican Party?” Graham asked. “So, no — this is a big deal. It’s not just a few Facebook ads. They were very successful in pitting one American against the other during the 2016 campaign.”
Graham also argued that “an attack on one party should be an attack on all” and said he has spoken to Trump about imposing more sanctions on Moscow.
“They’re coming at us again, and I’d like to stop them, and one way to stop them is to make them pay a price,” Graham said, later adding: “The Russians are up to it again. . . . Everything we’ve done with the Russians is not working. We need more sanctions, not less.”
Trump, however, demonstrates a continued unwillingness to accept that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, even questioning his own intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking. Multiple news outlets have reported that Trump believes such an assertion undercuts his victory.
Graham’s words, however, are unlikely to satisfy Democrats, given his insistence that there is nothing to litigate following Mueller’s report at a time when House Democrats say they will use the document as a road map for their own investigations.
One of 10 instances of possible obstruction cited in the Mueller report, which is more than 400 pages long, involved Trump allegedly calling then-White House counsel Donald McGahn and telling him to fire Mueller. House Democrats have subpoenaed McGahn, but Graham said he has no plans to do the same in the Senate.
“I don’t care what he said to Don McGahn; it’s what he did. And the president never obstructed,” Graham said. “If you’re going to look at every president who pops off at a staffer and, you know, asks them to do something that’s maybe crazy, you wouldn’t have any presidents.”
Notably, however, Mueller argued in his report that he did not feel he had the authority to determine whether Trump had obstructed justice. The special counsel seemed to defer to Congress on the matter, citing Justice Department guidelines barring a president from being charged with a crime.