Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Ep. 5: The Corruption of Lindsey Graham

July 31, 2023
Notes
Transcript

By the time of the Ukraine scandal and impeachment, Lindsey Graham and other Republicans had grown tired of defending Trump’s corrupt behavior. But they didn’t blame Trump—they blamed the investigators, and essentially handed Trump the power to do as he pleased. The Bulwark Podcast presents The Corruption of Lindsey Graham, with Will Saletan.

Listen to Episode 6.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:00
    I don’t have to tell you how hot it is and how difficult it is to get a good night’s sleep when the temperatures are as high as they are for right now. And that’s why you really ought
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:09
    to think about Bolen Branch because Bolen Branch sheets have this natural unmatched softness, and they get softer with every wash. And they are perfect for every season. This summer, sleep better at night with Bolen Branch sheets. Get fifteen percent off your first order when you use promo code Bulwark at Bolen Branch dot com. That’s Bolen Branch, b o l l a n d, branch dot com promo code Bulwark.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:33
    Exclusions apply, see Bolen Branch dot com for details.
  • Speaker 3
    0:00:46
    On September twenty sixth twenty nineteen, Senator Lindsey Graham ran into two reporters outside a steak house in Washington, DC. That morning, the House Intelligence Committee had released a whistleblower complaint that outlined a new scandal. In a phone call two months earlier on July twenty fifth twenty nineteen. President Donald Trump had pressured the new president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, who at that time was the democratic front runner to challenge Trump in twenty twenty. In the phone call, Trump had reminded Zelensky that the United States through military aid was protecting Ukraine.
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:29
    In other words, Trump was trying to extort Zelensky to help Trump win reelection. In that September conversation outside the steakhouse, as it was later described by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser in their book, the divider. Graham told the two reporters, that Trump had just called him to ask how to deal with the scandal. Graham’s advice to Trump was to deny the allegations and to attack the accusers. Graham knew Trump was dishonest.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:00
    In fact, Graham told the reporters that Trump was quote, a lying motherfucker. But despite this, and despite whatever Trump had done, Graham predicted that Republicans and Congress out of sheer party loyalty would stand by the president no matter what. Graham literally told the reporters that Trump, quote, could kill fifty people on our side, and it wouldn’t matter. That was the condition of American democracy after three years of Republican consolidation around Trump. The president shielded by his party.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:40
    Could no longer be held accountable. This is the corruption of Lindsey Graham presented by the Bulwark podcast I’m your host, Will Saletan. The Ukraine scandal was a natural sequel to two other corrupt episodes. Graham had already defended. The first one was the Russia scandal.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:12
    In that episode, Trump had gotten away with soliciting foreign interference to help him defeat Hillary Clinton. So now in Trump’s reelection campaign, the president was trying a similar maneuver. This time approaching Ukraine in hopes of targeting Biden. Here’s what happened in the phone call between Trump and Zelensky as it was later described at a congressional hearing. The man answering the question in this audio clip is Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:44
    A staffer at the National Security Council who heard the phone call in real time.
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:48
    So just to summarize, in this July twenty fifth call, between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine. President Trump demanded a favor of President Zelensky to conduct investigations both of you acknowledge war for president Trump’s political interest, not the national interest. And in return, for his promise, of a much desired White House meeting for president Zelensky. Colonel Vippen is that an accurate summary of the excerpts that we just looked at. Yes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:20
    The second previous episode that foreshadowed the Ukraine scandal was Trump’s confiscation of federal funds for his border wall. Earlier in twenty nineteen. In that episode, Republicans had helped the president usurped congressional power over appropriations. So now, Trump tried to override Congress again, this time by blocking money instead of spending it. Before Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, The White House suspended military aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:53
    Trump and his agents then used that suspension along with the offer of a White House meeting, which Trump was also withholding, as leverage to pressure Zelensky to announce an investigation of Biden. To the president’s critics, his coercion of Ukraine, was confirmation of his unfitness for office. They saw his long trail of corruption, collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, sexual assault, hush money crooked pardons, as an accumulation of evidence against him. But Trump’s supporters saw it the other way around. To them, the pattern was persecution.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:36
    Trump had faced one investigation after another in their view. Not because he had broken laws, but because his enemies controlled the investigating entities. The media, the FBI, the House of Representatives, and those enemies they alleged were determined to take him down. This was a major reason why the institutions of free society failed to stop Trump. His accumulating transgressions didn’t just galvanize his opponents.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:07
    They also galvanized his allies. Every new investigation became in the eyes of Trump’s supporters. Another reason to stand with him against the media, the Democrats, and the so called deep state. Even allies who recognized Trump’s corruption, as Graham did lost patience with the investigations. They grew tired of defending the president, but they didn’t blame him.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:34
    They blamed the investigators. Every day Graham had to spend talking about Trump’s latest scandal. Russia, Ukraine, whatever. Was exasperating. Graham just wanted it to end.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:49
    On Sean Hannity’s radio show, Graham all but admitted that the more Trump did to earn condemnation, the more Graham would defend him.
  • Speaker 5
    0:06:58
    And this constant nagging and criticizing everything he does is driven me into his camp like a lot of people. I mean, enough is enough.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:09
    The Ukraine investigation played out differently from the Russia investigation for several reasons. But one big reason was that by twenty nineteen, the Republican Party was reflexively committed to Trump. Graham and his colleagues had no interest in hearing about the president’s latest misconduct. Before the investigation could even begin, they dismissed it. On September twenty fourth, Nancy Pelosi, announced that the house would open an inquiry to collect evidence and determine whether impeachment was warranted.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:44
    The next day, literally, the next day Graham rejected that idea and condemned to the inquiry as illegitimate. Later that week, Graham declared that he had, quote, zero problems with the phone call in which Trump had tried to extort Zelensky. Instead, Graham targeted the public servants who had exposed the president’s extortion. I wanna know who told the whistleblower about the phone call he demanded. In twenty eighteen, Graham had blamed the Russia investigation on anti trump conspirators in the FBI and the Department of Justice.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:22
    Now Graham blamed the Ukraine investigation on, quote, the Intel community. He portrayed the president as a victim of a never ending plot by the central intelligence agency.
  • Speaker 6
    0:08:35
    It would blow them out of the water if in fact the whistleblower was connected to a democratic candidate and came from the CIA world that’s been trying to destroy the Trump presidency before he got elected. That’s why they don’t want you to know who this person is.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:50
    Since the whole Ukraine investigation was a sparathy, according to Graham. The evidence against Trump could just be ignored. Subsequent reporting published in the divider, the same book I mentioned earlier, revealed that Graham actually believed Trump had withheld the aid to Ukraine, to pressure Zelensky to open an investigation of Biden. But in public, Graham insisted falsely and defiantly that, quote, there is no evidence at all The president engaged in a quid pro quo. Graham literally called the Ukraine inquiry a lynching in every sense Weeks before the house even began its hearings, Graham pronounced the impeachment case, quote, dead on arrival in the Senate.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:36
    He refused to read transcripts of witness testimony. He refused to watch the house hearings. He refused to hear any witnesses in the Senate trial. I have made up my mind, he said. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:58
    Graham still claimed to believe in democracy. But democracy, as he now described it, meant that once a president was elected, nobody could remove that president until the next election. So in a bizarre way, democracy became in effect an argument against holding the president accountable to the law. To begin with, Graham argued that removing the president would override the will of the voters who had elected that president to serve a full four years. Graham said that taking such a drastic step would be, quote, destroying a mandate from the people.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:36
    Graham also said that removing the president would, quote, nullify the upcoming presidential election. Since Trump wouldn’t be allowed to run-in that election, if the Senate convicted him. Only the people voting every four years could choose the president, said Graham. Any other intervention. At any other time, by anyone else, would, quote, take the voters choice away.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:03
    Under this semi autocratic theory of democracy, the president could basically do as he pleased. During the Russia investigation, Graham had struggled to excuse Trump’s obstruction of the fact finding process. But in the Ukraine investigation, Graham didn’t even bother to come up with excuses. He openly encouraged the president to block White House officials from testifying and to withhold documents requested by Congress.
  • Speaker 6
    0:11:31
    If I were the president, I wouldn’t cooperate with these guys at all. I’m the same guy that said, you can’t fire Mueller. I encouraged him to work with Mueller, Mueller is a man of the law, Schiff Nadler and Pelosi, impeached this president in forty eight dates. I wouldn’t give them the time of day. They’re on a crusade to destroy this man, and they don’t
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:01
    Graham also broadened his defense of collusion. The reason he did this was that he needed to justify Trump’s requests to the Ukrainian government. Which were nominally disguised as attempts to expose corruption, but were clearly aimed at helping Trump politically. Those requests had come from Trump and his personal agents, not from the Department of Justice. And the requested act was a televised announcement.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:28
    In other words, a political favor, not a careful behind the scenes examination of what Biden had or hadn’t done.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:48
    Look, I think it’s important to invest in the best essentials like high quality shoes, jackets, cookware, etcetera. I mean, they make a huge difference in your quality of life, but your bedding shouldn’t be any different. You spend a lot more time with them. Look, so start investing in your best sleep with Bolen Branch where they make sheets that get softer with every wash. They feel buttery and breathable on night one, and they get softer and softer for years to come.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:10
    They’re made to last with one hundred percent organic cotton. Bolen Branch sheets are an upgrade that you will never regret. You know, I’ve been on the road lately, and it’s been hot. It has been muggy. And I have to say when I came back, one of the highlights was going back into my bedroom and dealing into bed with the Bolen Branch sheets because even on the hottest days of the year, you can sleep cool and comfortable This summer, sleep better at night with Bolen Branch sheets.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:38
    Get fifteen percent off your first order when you use promo code Bulwark at Bolen Branch dot com. That’s Bolen Branch, b o l l a n d branch dot com promo code Bulwark. Exclusions apply. See bullin branch dot com for details.
  • Speaker 7
    0:13:52
    Are you currently enjoying the show on the Stitcher app? Then you need to know Stitcher is going away on August twenty ninth. Yep. Going away as in Kaput. Gone, dead.
  • Speaker 7
    0:14:07
    Rest in peace Stitcher, and thanks fifteen years of service to the podcast community. So switch to another podcast app and follow this show there. Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:22
    This is a useful moment to step back. And think about the almost haphazard way in which Graham and other Republicans stumbled into authoritarianism. They did it almost through a kind of sleepwalking. For three years, Graham had been acting on a reflex. Every time Trump abused his power, Graham simply broadened his interpretation of presidential authority to cover that offense.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:50
    So whatever Trump did according to Graham was within his rights. That was what Graham did now. He argued in effect that the president was entitled not only to obstruct the house investigation. But also to conspire with and coerce the government of Ukraine. Here’s Graham at a news conference on January twenty fourth twenty twenty.
  • Speaker 8
    0:15:14
    What legitimate foreign policy interest could be served by having the president of Ukraine go on CNN and announce an investigation into one of the president’s political rivals. What’s what’s the
  • Speaker 9
    0:15:32
    here’s what I think. What Trump is frustrated with, including me, is that nobody in your business has spent fifteen minutes telling us about what Hunter Biden did and is it good for in policy. He’s frustrated because he believes there’s a double standard. So I just don’t buy the idea that is wrong for the president to insist that the Ukrainians cooperate with us on investigation. And I would say this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:58
    Two days later, the New York times reported that John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, had directly witnessed and had documented in a book manuscript a meeting in which Trump opposed releasing the aid to Ukraine until Zelensky’s government helped Trump’s political allies investigate Biden and other Democrats. Several Republican senators wanted Bolton to testify at the impeachment trial. But Graham worked behind the scenes to make sure that Bolton was never heard. In fact, in an interview on Fox News, Graham said that Even if everything Bolton alleged was true, it wouldn’t matter.
  • Speaker 6
    0:16:40
    Let’s assume for a moment that John Bolton would say what the York Times said he say, the president told me to put a freeze on the aid because I wanna look at the bidens. I’m paraphrasing. The president had every reason to wanna look at the bidens. The house
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:54
    Basically, Graham was saying that it was okay for the president to seize power from Congress. It was okay to declare an emergency to take money for a border wall and it was okay to block military aid. Again, contrary to the express will of Congress, to coerce a foreign government to target Trump’s political opponent. Whatever Trump did, whatever lines he crossed, whatever powers he claimed for himself. Lindsey Graham, would back him up.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:35
    On February fourth twenty twenty, as Republican senators prepared to formally reject and defeat the articles of impeachment, Graham celebrated. He gloated that Republicans had in his words kick the butt of Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate. But
  • Speaker 6
    0:17:53
    yet again, he
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:53
    didn’t And Graham was even more boastful about the president.
  • Speaker 6
    0:17:56
    But the biggest winner of all by far is President Trump, because he comes out of this thing stronger. He’s got more support today than he did before impeachment. And he’s well on his way, I think, to getting a second term and Then
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:11
    came the retaliation. On February seventh, Trump began to purge the public servants who had told the truth about his extortion. By now, Graham was an expert in coming up with excuses for Trump’s corrupt purges of public officials who got in his way. In twenty seventeen, Gram had defended Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. In twenty eighteen, he had defended Trump’s firing of attorney general, Jeff Sessions, And in January twenty twenty, Graham had defended Trump’s removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, who had been targeted by Trump’s agents in Ukraine as an obstacle to their plot against Biden.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:58
    When Graham was asked about the Ouster of Yovanovitch, he shrugged that Trump could, quote, fire anybody he wants to. So on February seventh. When the White House expelled Lieutenant Colonel Vinton who had testified about Trump’s phone call and other elements of the Ukraine scheme, Graham again stood with the president. The expulsion was obviously vengeful. Vindman was ousted along with his brother, who also worked for the National Security Council, but unlike Vanman hadn’t testified.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:31
    Both brothers were marched out of their offices by security guards. And what did Graham, a self styled friend of the military do about these expulsions? He went on TV and smeared Vindman. Graham said that people in Vindman’s chain of command were, quote, suspicious of him regarding his political point of view. Graham said that Vindman, not Trump, but Vindman, was being properly, quote, held accountable.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:03
    And that was just the beginning. Graham was hell bent on continuing the purge. He called on the senate to investigate Trump’s enemies and tracked down the whistleblower who had revealed the president’s extortion attempt. We’re not going to let it go, said Graham. Right.
  • Speaker 6
    0:20:20
    Who is the whistleblower? Does he have contacts on shift staff? Did colonel vindman leak information to the whistleblower? Right.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:28
    And as to It seemed that the war on Trump’s enemy and on anyone who even dared to tell the truth about the president would never end. Gram was working his way through a transformation that became common among Republican politicians during the Trump years. The first stage was selective toleration of the president’s misconduct. The second was a gradual loss of will to resist him. The third stage was descent into a polarized worldview that made it easier to rationalize devotion to Trump.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:16
    Gram had embraced that worldview in twenty eighteen when he erupted in partisan rage at the Supreme Court Confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. Now Graham was going to finish his conversion to the cult of Trump by retracting his previous heresies. He began by renouncing the entire Russia investigation. In twenty eighteen, Graham had acknowledged that the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was well founded and was being conducted responsibly. In twenty nineteen, when Mueller issued his report, Graham had lied about it, pretending that Mueller found no evidence of collusion or obstruction.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:59
    But by twenty twenty, Graham had fully crossed over into the cult of Trump. So he tried to rewrite the whole history of the investigation. On May sixth twenty twenty, Graham declared said, quote, the entire Mueller investigation was illegitimate to begin with. On Twitter, he wrote, Now I know why Mueller didn’t find anything. There was nothing there to find.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:27
    In fact, Graham claimed that the FBI and the department justice had known that there was nothing to find and that they had persecuted Trump anyway.
  • Speaker 6
    0:22:37
    Was there any legitimate reason for Mueller to be investigating the team for a crime regarding Russia. In twenty seventeen, there was no evidence that anybody on the Trump campaign was working with the Russians.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:50
    One by one, Graham went through the roster of Trump’s accomplices, trying to exonerate them or minimize their crimes. Previously, Graham had acknowledged their corruption. But now he would acknowledge nothing. The most obvious example was Michael Flint, Trump’s former national security adviser. In twenty fifteen, Flynn had been paid more than forty five thousand dollars by Russian state media For a speech at a Galla in Moscow, where he sat right next to the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:24
    Then in December of twenty sixteen, in phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Flynn had signaled that Trump who had just been elected president with Putin’s help would relax American sanctions against Russia. It later turned out that during the twenty sixteen campaign, Flynn had also been working secretly as a foreign agent for Turkey. Gram knew that all these transactions were shady. In February of twenty seventeen, Graham had criticized Flynn for undercutting the sanctuary In May of twenty seventeen, he had criticized Trump’s White House for not properly vetting Flynn’s contact with Turkey and Russia. Graham had praised Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general for telling Trump’s White House lawyers about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:18
    But later that year, after Trump was caught trying to squelch the FBI investigation of Flynn’s contacts with the Russians, Graham began to shift his position. In December of twenty seventeen. He said Flynn’s offer to the Russians to relax the sanctions was fine. And Graham didn’t stop there. By twenty nineteen, he had come around to the idea that the true villains were the American official who had exposed Flynn’s phone calls.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:49
    Graham claimed that the US intelligence community, which as part of its job routinely monitored the Russian Ambassador’s phone calls, including calls with Flynn or any other American, had no business surveilling Flynn or anyone else on Trump’s transition team. Here’s Graham in a live stream video for Trump’s reelection campaign on May twenty fifth twenty twenty. He’s talking with Lara Trump. The president’s daughter-in-law.
  • Speaker 10
    0:25:18
    The Obama administration apparently made a lot of request to unmask conversations between the incoming national security adviser, general Flynn, and a Russian ambassador. Here’s what scares the hell out of me. They have no business listing to the incoming administration The incoming administration should be talking to world figures to set new policy. Why did all these people wanna unmask conversations that general Flynn was having as he was, but waiting to become the new national security adviser. Was it for a legitimate national security purpose or were they trying to spy on the Trump campaign and figure out what they were gonna do on national security front?
  • Speaker 10
    0:26:03
    That’s why the That’s totally bonkers.
  • Speaker 6
    0:26:05
    Made a request.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:06
    Flynn’s phone calls with the ambassador were in December of twenty sixteen. That’s after the election was over. So there’s no way that any American official who monitored or reported those phone calls could have been, quote, spying on the Trump campaign. Later in the conversation, Graham made another bizarre statement Here’s what he said about Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s twenty sixteen campaign.
  • Speaker 10
    0:26:34
    Crossfire hurricane was the name of the investigation, that was opened up in twenty sixteen. It focused on four people. Carter page, Papadopoulos, General Flynn, and Manafort. Manafort was charged with tax crimes.
  • Speaker 5
    0:26:49
    Right.
  • Speaker 10
    0:26:49
    Now one of the four, was there any evidence found to suggest that they work with the Russians in any way during campaign. Again, that’s just nuts.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:02
    Manafort was one of the three Trump campaign officials. Who had met with Russian emissaries at Trump Tower in June twenty sixteen to listen to what had been presented by the Russian side in writing As an offer to, quote, provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary as, quote, part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump. Not only that, but Mueller’s investigation found that during the campaign, Manafort had met with and had ordered the sharing of campaign documents with an associate who was connected to Russian intelligence. So Graham in denying that Mueller had found any evidence of Manafort working with the Russians was just flat out lying.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:51
    Why? Why would Graham spout such complete garbage? What had happened to him? It’s a complicated question, but if you actually sit down and watch the video he made with Lara Trump, you’ll begin to see part of the answer. During their conversation, messages begin to appear across the bottom of the screen.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:14
    The messages are advertising hats t shirts and other merchandise from donald j trump dot com. This is a fundraising video Gram wasn’t just a senator anymore. He was part of the Trump money machine, and that relationship was mutual. In the months, after Republican senators acquitted the president in the Ukraine investigation, Graham used his alliance with Trump to solicit donations for his own reelection. Graham routinely went on Fox News and right wing radio to ask viewers for money in the name of fighting for the president.
  • Speaker 5
    0:28:52
    Well, they’re facing. I’ve been consistently supporting Trump, but they’ll see beat me, and I want him to be successful. The unpardonable sin mark is to support president Trump. So they the liberals hate me for Kavanaugh, they hate me for Trump. So what do I need?
  • Speaker 5
    0:29:06
    I need people listening to your radio show if you can afford five or ten bucks. Go to lindsey graham dot com and let’s close the gap. I raise three Will Saletan
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:16
    to build up his database of donors and supporters, Graham would launch an annual Trump Graham golf classic. I don’t mean to suggest that money was driving all of Graham’s decisions. It wasn’t. But it was part of a web that gradually corrupted Graham and other Republican politicians. Trump controlled what they needed.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:38
    Indorsements, money, and Republican primary voters. By the spring and summer of twenty twenty, Trump was in the cleanup stage of the Russia and Ukraine scandals. On the one hand, he was exacting vengeance against public servants who had stood up to him. But meanwhile, he was also determined to protect people who had remained loyal to him. And in some cases, That meant blocking the justice system from punishing his accomplices, including those who had already been convicted of crimes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:16
    One was Roger Stone, who in twenty sixteen had served as the chief conduit between Trump and WikiLeaks which was Russia’s partner in the operation to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and help Trump. In November twenty nineteen, Stone had been convicted of witness tampering, false statements, and obstruction of the congressional investigation into Russia’s election interference. Trump was determined to pardon Stone, or at least to commute his sentence. So Stone would never go to jail. This was a totally corrupt arrangement.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:53
    Stone had covered for Trump, and now Trump was paying him back. But Graham said it was all fine. In February of twenty twenty, Graham said Trump had, quote, all the legal authority in the world to pardon Stone. In fact, Graham claimed preposterously that Trump’s unilateral power to pardon Stone, was part of a, quote, brilliant and intricate system of checks and balances. In July, Trump did commute stone sentence.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:26
    Graham applauded the decision. He said it was justified because the whole Russia investigation was in Graham’s words biased and corrupt. Later, Trump gave full pardons, not just a stone, but to Flynn and Manafort too. And once again, Graham backed him up. The pardons were a classic authoritarian move.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:51
    They exploited a weakness in the constitution A virtually unchecked presidential power to shield Trump’s accomplices from the rule of law. By doing so, They also shielded the president since the pardoned accomplices had refused to testify against him. But the pardons were just tying up loose ends from Trump’s previous crimes. The next stage of Trump’s assault on democracy would go way beyond option. It would involve violence and the prospect of civil war.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:35
    The violence began on May twenty fifth, the same day Graham was recording that video with Lara Trump. It started in Minneapolis when police officers killed a Bulwark man, George Floyd, in the course of arresting him for allegedly passing a fake twenty dollar bill. The killing for which one officer was later convicted of murder was captured on video and broadcast everywhere. In many cities, there were protests and riots. Trump responded by threatening to send in quote the unlimited power of our military.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:11
    Graham supported the president’s threat. And three weeks later, as some people tore down statues, in protest against police violence and other grievances. Graham called for a political war against the vandals and their sympathisers on the left.
  • Speaker 6
    0:33:27
    The people doing this hate our country. They hate the way we were founded. They hate capitalism. They have no respect for religion. They have no respect for diversity of thought.
  • Speaker 6
    0:33:39
    These people, the most radical people known to America were at war with them politically They want to destroy America as we know it. They hate America. And every symbol of our countries from the flag to a statute They hate. They want to turn us into a socialist nation. They want to destroy the the family unit as we know it.
  • Speaker 6
    0:34:01
    And I tell you what, to the listeners out there, You may not believe you’re an award, but you are politically, and you need to take sides, and you need to help this president.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:16
    When Graham talked about a war, he wasn’t just talking about the vandals, He was talking about polarizing America in an all out battle against the Democrats. That fall as Graham ran for reelection. He made the rounds on conservative radio and TV, raising money by vilifying Liberals. They hate my friggin guts he bragged on Hannity’s radio show. Let’s kick their ass.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:45
    That kind of rhetoric wasn’t new, especially in the heat of a campaign. But this time, the political context was extremely dangerous. Trump was on the ballot too and he was already signaling that if the election didn’t go his way, he might not accept the outcome. Weeks before election day, Trump told his followers that massive election fraud was underway. The Democrats are trying to rig this election because that’s the only way they’re going to win he asserted.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:20
    When reporters ask the president, whether he would accept the results and commit to a peaceful transfer of power. He refused to answer. There won’t be a transfer. He said, there’ll be a continuation. But Trump’s threats didn’t bother Graham.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:38
    In fact, Graham told voters that Trump’s volatility was an asset. On October thirty first, at a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina. Graham bragged that Trump had scared the living daylights out of Mexico and China.
  • Speaker 6
    0:35:55
    Donald Trump has got everybody you wanna be scared, scared. When I go overseas, they said, what do you think? I said, he’s a little crazy? How much would I do for y’all?
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:08
    That was three days before the twenty twenty election. The crowd had a good laugh at that line. They loved the idea of Trump scaring other countries, but it wasn’t Mexico or China that Trump was about to attack. It was the United States. Coming up next time, on the corruption of Lindsey Graham.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:33
    Trump attempts a coup and Graham defends him by raising the threat of more political violence
  • Speaker 6
    0:36:40
    We should reject post presidential impeachments because it will destroy the country and it will incite violence. If you want to end the violence end impeachment,
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:51
    The corruption of Lindsey Graham was reported and written by me, Will Salatin. Katie Cooper is the producer. With audio engineering, editing, and sound design by Jason Brown. Thank you to my editors, Jonathan Last and Adam Kuyper. And to Charlie Sykes.
Want to listen without ads? Join Bulwark+ for an exclusive ad-free version of The Bulwark Podcast! Learn more here. Already a Bulwark+ member? Access the premium version here.