Lindsey Graham has long pushed for legislation to shield special counsel Robert Mueller from President Donald Trump. But now that he’s got the power to do something about it, he’s holding off.
“If I see a reason to do it I will, but I think we’re OK right now,” the South Carolina Republican said in a brief interview.
As the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham will play a key role in how Congress responds to Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Just last month he suggested he would advance bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel if the probe is still live by the end of February.
But Graham said recently he isn’t worried about the president, who continues to rage against a “witch hunt” that has secured a growing set of indictments and convictions, including of some close Trump campaign associates.
“I see no indication that he is going to do anything untoward toward Mr. Mueller, none,” said Graham.
His colleagues on the Judiciary Committee aren’t so sure — and they’re pushing Graham to act.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a co-sponsor of the Mueller protection bill, noted that Graham is a fellow co-sponsor and that the committee approved the bill last year under Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.).
“Chairman Graham is on the record having voted for this bill and advanced it to the floor,” Coons said. “I look forward to talking to him about why I think there continues to be urgency around protecting the special counsel.”
Graham has never kept his opinions to himself — expounding on what the president must do for political survival or laying out exactly what’s needed to cut an immigration deal.
But now that he’s Judiciary chairman, with jurisdiction over the Mueller bill, immigration, guns and more, he’ll be judged on more than just his rhetoric.
While he’ll be aided by his close ties to Trump as well as a history of bipartisanship, it’s not clear that will be enough amid an erratic presidency and polarized Congress. He’s under further pressure as he faces re-election in 2020 in a state Trump won by 14 percentage points; any split with the president could be damaging in a GOP primary.
Last year, the Judiciary Committee approved the Mueller protection bill 14-7 despite opposition from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Graham told reporters at the time that the Judiciary Committee “has an independent obligation to do what we think’s best” and the special counsel “now and in the future needs protection.”
McConnell kept the bill bottled up the rest of the previous Congress, and he’s shown no willingness to reverse course — a reality that is likely to weigh on Graham, who has also cultivated ties with Trump after clashing with him in the 2016 campaign.
“I think Leader McConnell has sent the signal pretty strongly that he doesn’t want those bills brought up and I suspect that Lindsey, as a new chairman, will want to pick his fights about crossing Leader McConnell when he’s made his position so clear,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), another committee member.
The Mueller investigation took center stage at Attorney General nominee William Barr’s confirmation hearing last month at the Judiciary panel. Barr, who’s set to be confirmed this week, came under fire from Senate Democrats for declining to say whether he’d release Mueller’s final report publicly.
Following the hearing, Grassley and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation that aims to ensure Mueller’s final report is provided to Congress and the public.
When asked about the Grassley-Blumenthal bill, Graham said that he wants to first see how Barr handles release of the final report and has “confidence he’ll be transparent.”
Grassley, Graham’s predecessor as committee chairman, still wants his bill brought up, noting that it applies to future special counsel investigations.
“I want to know what [the report] says but I also want to know what we got for 25 or 35 million dollars and so I would still hope that it would pass because we could have special counsels five years from now ten years from now,” he said.
In fact, rather than bring up the special counsel bills, he has joined Trump in voicing concern about how Trump associate Roger Stone was arrested.
“The American public has had enough of the media circus that surrounds the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Graham wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Yet, the manner of this arrest appears to have only added to the spectacle. Accordingly, I write to seek justification for the tactics used and the timing of the arrest of Mr. Stone.”
Apart from Mueller, immigration also offers Graham a chance to shape bipartisan legislation in a politically-treacherous environment.
Graham has repeatedly sought to play deal-maker on an issue that has dominated Trump’s presidency. He reached an agreement with Senate Democrats to protect Dreamers last year but found it rejected by Trump. A few months later, when it appeared he would soon have the Judiciary gavel, he suggested he might be able to craft something that could be signed into law.
“On immigration, there’s a deal to be had, he told POLITICO at the time.
Graham acknowledges that action to help young undocumented immigrants is not on the table at the moment, as lawmakers from both parties struggle to even unite on a modest border security package to keep the government open.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen this round,” he said recently. “It’s too bad, too.”
Still, he’ll “see if there’s any maneuvering” to be done as Judiciary chairman. And he noted that the committee’s ranking member, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have been working on a proposal to address family separations.
Both Democrats and Republicans have praised Graham for how he’s handled his tenure atop the committee so far.
Although Senate Democrats grilled Barr at his confirmation hearing, it was a civil event — a real contrast to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings where Graham erupted in anger. At Barr’s hearing, Graham told his colleagues that “the immigration Lindsey will show up,” a reference to his past bipartisan work on the issue.
Blumenthal said Graham’s first committee meeting was “certainly very well done,” while Whitehouse added that Graham has “the prospect of being a very good Judiciary chair.”
Grassley said Graham may prioritize different issues than he did and described his successor as “more blunt in responding to people that irritate him.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing to be,” Grassley added, “and maybe that was one of my weaknesses.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Droolin’ Dog sniffed out this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: firstname.lastname@example.org (Marianne LeVine)