Graham’s relationship with Trump comes back to bite him

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reached new heights of political fame during the Trump years, but is now in the midst of a criminal investigation related to the 2020 campaign for Georgia.
A special Fulton County grand jury has summoned Graham along with other Trump insiders as part of an investigation into possible criminal interference in the 2020 Georgia election, which Joe Biden narrowly won by 12,670 votes.
Graham's attorneys issued a statement Wednesday, alleging that the senior South Carolina senator was not the subject or target of the investigation, which they denounced as a "fishing expedition."
His attorneys, Bart Daniel and Matt Austin, said they would fight the subpoena in court, raising the prospect of a lengthy litigation.
“As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Graham had every right to discuss with state officials the processes and procedures involved in conducting elections. Should it stand, the subpoena issued today would undermine the constitutional balance of power and a member of Congress' ability to do his or her job," they said in a statement Wednesday. "Sen. Graham plans to go to court to challenge the subpoena and expects to prevail.”
The Fulton County Attorney's Office said Wednesday they will respond in court to compel Graham's appearance if necessary.
Democrats say Graham's actions after Trump narrowly lost Georgia were highly unusual and appear to have deviated from regular Senate oversight process.
Graham called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger shortly after Biden barely carried the state to ask him about the validity of thousands of ballots.
What surprised Senate insiders was that Graham approached Raffensperger directly, rather than tasking the staff with what the senator described as an intelligence-gathering mission.
"It is certainly alarming that a US Senator is being questioned about the events surrounding Donald Trump's efforts to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the election results," said Ray Zaccaro, a Democratic strategist and former Senate assistant who worked on voting rights legislation.
“Lindsey Graham does not represent the state of Georgia. Lindsey Graham has an official legislative role, but he's not an investigator, he's not an election official, he's not one of the president's attorneys, he's not a presidential representative," he said.
Zaccaro said that while Graham was chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, "that wasn't how the committee conducted any sort of oversight."
"It was certainly unusual and unorthodox," he said. "As far as I'm aware, nothing about his role as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee at this time would merit that commitment."
While Graham's legal team says he is not a target or subject of the criminal vote-interference investigation, his involvement in the investigation raises questions about whether he could ever be prosecuted.
Stanley Brand, a former House General Counsel and specialist in congressional ethics, said Graham could seek protection under the constitution's "speech and debate" clause, which protects lawmakers from arrest during their official duties.
"I think there are probably speech and debate implications here, not the least of which is his internal deliberations with his colleagues as that would be voted on," he said, noting that Graham had contacted Raffensperger before he and other senators wanted on Jan. 6 Voting objections to confirming Biden's win.
But Brand said the legal case is darkened by Graham's interactions with state officials outside of Congress.
"The harder question is how far his talks with Raffensperger would go," he said.
While Brand said the judiciary had an oversight responsibility, he noted "dicta" in the Supreme Court's 1972 judgment in Gravel v. United States, indicating that "errands" lawmakers run with agencies not part of theirs legislative function, the speaking and debate clauses are not protected.
"It's almost a question by question decision," he said, explaining that the protection of the speech and debate clause depends largely on how a court can decide.
Some Democratic lawmakers believe Attorney General Merrick Garland will act on the findings of the House of Representatives committee selected Jan. 6 to investigate and indict members of Trump's inner circle in connection with their efforts to block Biden's 2020 victory.
Federal investigators last month searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department attorney who, according to recent testimonies before Congress, was trying to convince Trump to put him in charge of justice so he could send a letter to Georgia election officials in which he falsely claims that the department had identified "significant concerns" about the state's election results.
Other Trump allies subpoenaed by the Fulton County Attorney have been actively involved in a strategy to stop the certification of Biden's victory, according to statements released by the House Select Panel. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, as well as other attorneys associated with Trump - John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell, Jenna Ellis and Kenneth Chesebro - also received subpoenas.
Raffensperger, Georgia's chief election official, told the Washington Post shortly after Graham called him that he was stunned that Graham appeared to be proposing to find a way to discard legally cast ballots.
Graham at the time denied Raffensperger's claim as "ridiculous," insisting he was merely trying to understand how voting rights worked in Georgia.
"The main question for me is: how do you protect the integrity of postal voting and how does signature verification work?" he said.
More than a year and a half later, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis, colleagues in Congress and the media.
Since it was revealed that Graham had twice contacted Raffensperger and his associates to investigate Georgia's absentee ballot for possible fraud, the House Select Committee's Jan. 6 investigation has released further evidence suggesting it organized and orchestrated a Effort by Trump allies to topple Biden's 2020 victory
Graham's close relationship with Trump and his regular contact with the president have cast doubt on senators' claims that he took part in a fact-finding mission with no intention of pressuring election officials in one way or another.
Issac J. Bailey, a professor of public policy and communications at Davidson College in North Carolina, noted that Graham initially kept Trump at a distance during the 2016 election but later found himself drawn to his power.
He said Graham's close relationship with Trump prompted him to call Georgia election officials.
"Old Lindsey Graham would never have put himself in that position, never picked up the phone to pressure lawmakers in another state to affect the outcome of an election," Bailey told The Hill.
"Having initially rightly kept Trump at arm's length and rightly calling out the danger that many of us saw in 2016, he just gave up all of that to get into Trump's good graces," he said.
In any case, given Trump's immense popularity in South Carolina, Republican strategists see no political harm for Graham at home.
"I'm not sure that because of the nature of the South Carolina electorate, and particularly the Republican Party and the typical Republican voter in the state of South Carolina, Graham will be hurt by just going for it. It's not like he's going to be penalized for that in the election," said James Wallner, a former Republican Senate advisor who now teaches congressional and American constitutional law at Clemson University.
Wallner said the legal implications are harder to predict.
"What comes out of it is a different story, and we can't write that chapter until we get there," he said.
For the latest news, weather, sports and streaming video visit The Hill.
Lindsey Graham
American politician
donald trump
45th President of the United States
Joe Biden
46th President of the United States since 2021
Brad Raffensperger
American politician (1955-)

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