August 23, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the Era of Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham Grows Soft on Crime

While Bill Clinton's crimes got impeachment, Trump's get a Supreme Court justice.

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Lawrence O’Donnell unearthed Tuesday an old video of then-US Rep. Lindsey Graham expounding on the meaning of impeachment. Graham, now a US Senator, was at the time the lead prosecutor in House proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

“The point I’m trying to make is you don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.”

He went on:

“Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”

I’d like to add to that. This morning, I found an old AP clip in which Graham defined the constitutional criteria necessary for impeachment. (Start watching at :37.)

“People are looking at facts and coming to realized the president committed serious crimes,” Congressman Graham said at the time. “Grand-jury perjury and obstruction of justice, I think, are high crimes and misdemeanors.”

All of the above is important for two reasons.

One, President Donald Trump was implicated Tuesday in federal crimes committed for the express purpose of influencing the outcome of the 2016 election.

Two, while Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges, the Republicans were paving the way for Trump’s pick for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Put another way: the fact that the president is an unindicted co-conspirator in committing “serious crimes,” as Graham said, is not stopping the GOP from ramming through Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who will reshape the court for a generation.

Yet another way: The GOP is happy to permit a president who dishonored the office to pick a justice despite his “serious crimes” appearing to meet the standard forming the basis for the (successful) impeachment and (failed) removal of Bill Clinton.

The Post’s Max Boot had this to say Wednesday:

There is growing evidence that the president is, to use the word favored by Richard Nixon, “a crook.” Even buying the silence of his reputed playmates could by itself have been enough to swing an exceedingly close election decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. Trump certainly would not have authorized the payments unless he thought it was politically imperative to do so. There is also considerable evidence, as I previously argued, that Russia’s intervention on Trump’s behalf affected the outcome. Even more than Nixon, Trump is now an illegitimate president whose election is tainted by fraud.

Boot points to the Cohen plea as the start of America’s understanding of Trump’s illegitimacy. But it started earlier. We learned in February, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian agents, that the Kremlin waged “information warfare against the United States” with the aim of electing Donald Trump.

I wrote at the time:

“Would he have won without their help? It’s impossible to know. That is Trump’s elemental problem. The Russians attacked the foundational process by which the people chose their leader. Based on that indisputable fact, we can credibly claim that the president did not beat Hillary Clinton on his own. Because he did not defeat her on his own, his victory’s legitimacy is doubtful.

Even so, talk of political legitimacy is catching on.

Senate Democrats are now using the Cohen plea as rationale for sandbagging Kavanaugh’s confirmation (to the extent that they can, which is doubtful).

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for delaying hearings next month. “The possibility of criminal wrongdoing by the president, combined with existing doubts that Brett Kavanaugh believes a president can even be investigated, demand further review of this situation,” US Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Wednesday.

US Sen. Ed Markey actually used the I-word on Twitter:

The Republicans suggest that the only thing stopping Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be direct evidence that the president colluded with Russia to win.

US Sen. John Cornyn told NBC News:

“I haven’t been able to look at all the details, but I would note that none of this has anything to do with the Russian collusion or meddling in the election.”

US Sen. John Kennedy agreed:

“As best I can tell, there’s nothing in any of the plea agreement or the Manafort trial and jury verdict dealing with Russia.”

As for Graham, he’s grown soft on crime*. He does not believe implication in a criminal conspiracy to defraud United States is sufficient enough to prevent the president from changing the character of the Supreme Court for years to come.


  • *Graham said he wasn’t worried about Cohen’s implication, because “the heart and soul of why Mueller exists is whether or not there was collusion (with Russia).” In his view, Trump’s crimes are different from Bill Clinton’s, even though the point of impeachment, he had previously said, was “restoring honor and integrity.”

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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