Senator Lindsey Graham has been accused of pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to throw out legally cast ballots in order to help Trump win the state.
Over the last four years, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has transformed from a brutal critic of President Donald Trump’s to one of his most dogged defenders. Now, his desire to support the president may have consequences. Graham has been accused of pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to throw out legally cast ballots in order to help Trump win the state.
This is just one of the latest twists in a postelection narrative that has seen Trump refuse to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden. If true, Graham’s actions would not only be a major breach in ethics, they could be legally actionable. Trump loyalists like Graham have enjoyed the protection of the president, but once Trump is out of office, they could be on their own.
The claims of Brad Raffensperger
Late on Monday, November 16, The Washington Post published an interview with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the interview, Raffensperger, who has described himself as “a Republican through and through,” reported he had been contacted by Graham. During their conversation, Raffensperger claimed, the senator suggested tossing out legally cast ballots. Per the Post:
“Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures.”
Raffensperger expressed exasperation at the pressure put on him by Graham and other Republicans to deny the results of the election. Though there have been some voting irregularities in Georgia, including the discovery of 2,600 uncounted ballots in a recount, the major news agencies called the state for President-elect Joe Biden a week after Election Day.
Even with the found ballots, roughly two-thirds of which were for Trump, Biden holds a nearly 13,000 vote lead over Trump in Georgia. State officials have stated that the missing ballots were the result of human error, not an intentional effort to toss out votes.
Questioned about the alleged conversation with Raffensperger, Graham admitted he had spoken with Raffensperger but denied the secretary of state’s characterization of the call. Graham said they discussed how the state determined ballot signatures matched the registration paperwork, but he denied that he suggested tossing out legal ballots.
Graham told the Post, “The main issue for me is: How do you protect the integrity of mail-in voting, and how does signature verification work?”
Graham also claimed he spoke with state officials for both Arizona and Nevada to discuss election security related to mail-in ballots. Trump and other Republicans repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in ballots in the run-up to the election, though there is no evidence voting by mail is any less secure than voting in person.
It is unclear who Graham spoke to in Arizona and Nevada as both secretaries of state have said they did not have a conversation with Graham.
Reactions to the Lindsey Graham scandal
The reactions to the Post story included calls for Graham to resign or to be removed from the Senate.
Walter Shaub, former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, expressed his dismay on Twitter: “The NY Times and several members of the cozy club of Senators are downplaying Sen. Graham’s subversion of democracy. But if a powerful Senate chairman calling a top election official to propose disenfranchising Americans isn’t an ethics violation, the Senate has no ethics at all.”
Shaub appears to be referring to this passage in a New York Times article about Graham’s effort to help Trump win the election: “Legal experts said it was doubtful that Mr. Graham’s actions, which were open to interpretation, could lead to criminal charges or that they represented a violation of Senate ethics. Still, it appeared that Mr. Graham had stepped over an ethical line.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a Democrat, also criticized Graham on Twitter, stating he “must resign” after Raffensperger’s claims were corroborated by another source. Jayapal was citing a CNN report in which Gabriel Sterling, a member of Raffensperger’s staff, confirmed that he had overheard the conversation as described by the Georgia Secretary of State.
“There must be accountability and justice for this dangerous attack on our democracy,” Jayapal added.
On November 17, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called for an investigation into Graham’s actions. The following day, Shaub joined with Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, and Claire Finkelstein, a law professor, to formally request an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.
While Graham insists he did nothing wrong, so far his Republican colleagues in the Senate have not publicly spoken up in his defense.
The destruction of Lindsey Graham?
In 2016, before Trump had officially accepted the Republican nomination for president, Graham tweeted, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.” That tweet has repeatedly been used against Graham, both because he was once so vehemently opposed to Trump and because the senator has become a fierce ally of the president since Trump took office.
Graham spent much of the 2016 primary season criticizing Trump and resisting his nomination. In an appearance on The Daily Show in 2016, he said Trump’s campaign relied on “opportunistic race-baiting, religious bigotry, xenophobia.” Graham also claimed Trump was not a Republican and “if Donald Trump carries the banner of my party, I think it taints conservatism for generations to come.”
Yet, since Trump has been in office, Graham has been a reliable supporter, voting with Trump’s agenda nearly 90% of the time. Being members of the same party, it isn’t surprising that Graham has voted in alignment with the president. What has confused some observers, though, is Graham’s complete reversal on Trump in his public comments.
In the four years of Trump’s presidency, Lindsey has been described as one of Trump’s “most vociferous defenders” and the representation of “the Republican Party’s capitulation to Trumpism.” The senator has repeatedly refuted claims that Trump is racist, even though that is exactly how he described candidate Trump in 2016.
While the Republican Party will live on past the Trump presidency, Graham’s future is less certain in the wake of this current scandal. It would certainly be an ironic turn of events if Graham’s 2016 tweet ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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