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Ep. 6: The Corruption of Lindsey Graham

August 7, 2023
Notes
Transcript

After the 2020 election, Lindsey Graham had a chance to be free—of Donald Trump, and all the rationalizing he had done for four years. But the senator was no longer his own man: He now belonged to Trump.

Listen to Episode 7.

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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
    0:00:09
    On November third twenty twenty, just before ten o’clock in the evening, Senator Lindsey Graham got some very good news. The election results were in. And based on the returns, news organizations were projecting that Graham would keep his seat for another six years.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:26
    The Republicans sent Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will win reelection by defeating Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison. He has
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:34
    Shortly after that news hit the airwaves. Graham got a phone call. It was president Donald Trump calling to offer his congratulations. Trump was in a tougher reelection fight, and Graham tried to cheer him up. Hang in there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:51
    He told Trump. It’s looking pretty good for you. But in fact, it didn’t look good for Trump. And as ballots were tabulated into the next day, it got worse. Trump was going to lose.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:06
    This was a big moment. It was Graham’s chance to let go. When Trump captured the White House in twenty sixteen, Graham had offered the new president his allegiance. For four years, Graham and his Republican colleagues had defended or ignored Trump’s persistent abuse of his office. They had rationalized their collaboration with Trump as a necessary bargain.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:32
    They told themselves that by earning the president trust. They were influencing his policy decisions and restraining his worst impulses. Now that bargain was no longer necessary area. Trump would soon be out of power. The danger he posed to the United States and to the world was receding.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:55
    Gram was free, but he couldn’t let go. Those four years had changed Graham. He wasn’t his own man anymore. He belonged to Trump. This is the corruption of Lindsey Graham, presented by the Bulwark podcast.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:15
    I’m your host, Will Saletan. When a conventional politician submits to an authoritarian, the politician tells himself that their alliance is only temporary. Sometimes the authoritarian has a mass following. Sometimes he already has power. The politician wants access to that following and that power.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:47
    He imagines that eventually he can leave the alliance just as easily as he went into it. That assumption is a fatal mistake. Because submission changes the person who submits. The more you can tort yourself to serve the leader, the more you forget what you once believed. The more you rely on the leader for strength, the weaker you become.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:12
    The more you cater to the leader’s followers, the more you become what those followers want you to be. The result of this process, is that morally, you basically hollow yourself out. It isn’t just that you can’t leave anymore. It’s that you no longer want to To let go of Trump, Graham needed one of three things. He needed to recognize the gravity of Trump’s crimes, and the threat prompt posed to the country.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:43
    Or alternatively, Graham needed a different vision of the Republican party, one guided by principles, not by devotion to Trump. Or if breaking with Trump would break the party, Gram at least needed to be willing to lose the next election to the Democrats. By November twenty twenty, Graham no longer possessed any of those things. He had rationalized so much corruption that he was largely desensitized to it. He had lost faith in the viability of a Trump free Republican Party, and Graham had convinced himself that a government led by the Democrats would ruinous.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:24
    Therefore, Republicans had to win the next election, and to win, they had to placate The first thing Trump wanted was a united propaganda campaign by Republicans to discredit the election results. Trump made this clear in public statements on election night and in private phone calls with Graham. So that’s what Graham did. Here’s Graham on Fox News on November fifth two days after the election.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:02
    Give the dollar j trump dot com, so we’ll have the resources to fight. The allegations of wrongdoing are are earth shattering. So, Senate Republicans are gonna be brief by the Trump campaign Saturday. And every Senate Republican and house republican needs to get on television and tell this story. Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:25
    Why are they shutting people out? Because they don’t want people to see what they’re doing. But you’re talking about a lot of dead people voting, You’re talking about in Nevada people voting her not legal Ron DeSantis.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:36
    This was a big change from twenty seventeen. Back then, When Trump claimed that voter fraud had robbed him a victory in the popular vote, Graham had warned the president that such reckless allegations would, quote, shake confidence in your ability to lead the country. But now that the American political system had rejected Trump, The president no longer cared about public confidence. He didn’t want to preserve faith in the system. He wanted to destroy it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:06
    And Graham was going to help him. Over the next month, Graham pedaled one bizarre tale after another. Rigged computers, dead voters, fake balance from nursing homes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:20
    I am convinced if you ran these signatures through, with the machine set at the proper setting, thousands of ballots would be found to be kicked out. You remember the story about people filling out ballots on the hood of a car. We have a witness seeing that that they filled out ballots on a Biden Harrison truck. Well, those are fraudulent signatures. If you In
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:41
    private, Graham ridiculed affidavits that alleged voter fraud. I can get an affidavit tomorrow saying the world is flat. He told an aide, But on TV, Graham hyped affidavits as evidence that the election results couldn’t be trusted. Gram, like Trump, was repeatedly advised that his allegations were baseless or absurd. But like Trump, he refused to back down.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:09
    In a press briefing on November sixth, a reporter alerted Graham to what Pat Tumi a Republican senator from Pennsylvania had said that morning that there was, quote, simply no evidence of any kind of widespread corruption or fraud in Pennsylvania’s election. Graham shrugged off the warning. He told the reporter, quote, Philadelphia is not the bastion of free and fair election The next day, as continuing tabulations closed off any chance of a Trump victory, all the major TV networks including Fox News, announced that Joe Biden had won. But Graham refused to accept their verdict. These computers in Michigan do not pass the smell tests he alleged.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:56
    I want Pennsylvania to explain to the American people out six people after they die can register and vote in Pennsylvania. I want the computer systems in Michigan that flip votes from Republicans to Democrats to be looked looked at and the software was used all over the country. There’s a lot of shenanigans going on here. If our president Trump would take all this to court. I’d fight back.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:18
    Do not concede, mister president. Fight hard.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:22
    On November twelfth, Steve Ducey, a Fox News host, pointed out that the election wasn’t really that close. Trump was behind by tens of thousands of votes in several states, do see a reminded Graham. That meant that the outcome could be reversed only by inducing words, some sort of systemic fraud, some gigantic thing. But Graham didn’t budge. He just repeated his stories about fake balance.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:50
    By the end of November, all the decisive states had certified their election results. On December first, attorney general William Barr added that despite investigations of Republican allegations about the election, investigations that had been conducted by the FBI and by US attorneys. Barr had, quote, not seen fraud on a scale that could change the result. But Graham still didn’t let up. On December third, two days after that statement from Barr, Graham was on Fox News going at it again.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:26
    As a matter of fact, I sent an affidavit over signed by a gentleman in Pennsylvania I think it was Pennsylvania, but I’m backdating ballots. I know that Department of Justice and the post office people actually talked to that individual. Sean Hannity had a gentleman on his show a night or two ago that claims that he took ballots from New York to Pennsylvania. Now, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if you have a truck driver willing to stay under oath, that he picked up ballots in New York. That were Pennsylvania in nature and drove them to Pennsylvania, that would be an earth shaking revelation.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:01
    Both of these stories. The one about backdating ballots, and the one about smuggling ballots to Pennsylvania were unfounded. But Graham kept going. On December eleventh, he endorsed a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas that tried to invalidate the election results from four other states, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And Graham didn’t just dispute the come of the election.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:31
    He directly attempted to overturn it. On November thirteenth, Graham phoned Brad Raffensberger, the Secretary of State of Georgia. In the phone call, Graham asked whether Raffensberger could discard all mail in ballot. From counties in which relatively high numbers of voter signatures were thought to be dubious. Ravenberger, a lifelong Republican, interpreted Graham’s call as a suggestion that Ravensberger should throw out ballots to help Trump win the state.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:05
    But when the phone call was reported in the press, Graham insisted he was just asking questions. Gram also openly pressured officials in Georgia to override the state’s election results. A week after the call to wrap Burker. Graham claimed on Fox and Friends that suspicious signatures should have voided thirty nine thousand ballots in Georgia. Gram said that was, quote, more than enough to put Trump ahead.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:34
    We’re going to fight back in Georgia. We’re gonna fight back everywhere he vowed. On December sixth, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, defied pressure from Trump to call a special legislative session that would re audit the state’s ballot count and award Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump. Kemp pointed out that it would be unconstitutional to retroactively change George’s electoral process in order to change the winner. The next day, December seventh, Graham responded to Kemp by going on TV and threatening the governor.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:13
    Here’s what I think. If you’re not fighting for Trump now, when he needs you the most as a Republican leader in Georgia, people are not gonna fight for you when you ask them to get reelected. There’s a No.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:24
    Just to be clear, at no point, did Graham endorse violence or explicitly ask state officials to do anything illegal. Despite his incendiary rhetoric and his misleading claims of fraud, Graham stipulated that he would accept court rulings and that he would support the peaceful transfer of power. That may not sound like much, but it mattered. American democracy survived the weeks after the twenty twenty election. In part, because Graham and other senior Republicans did not cross that line.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:00
    But paradoxically, that line also created a false sense of security. It allowed Graham and his colleagues to rationalize their participation in spreading propaganda about election theft. They pretended that because they were willing to stop short of violence, and because they were willing to accept decisions from the Supreme Court, that was enough to preserve democracy and the rule of law. In reality, these politicians were thoroughly complicit. In the explosion that was about to follow.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:34
    The United States metaphorically was about to burst into flames, And while Graham and other prominent Republicans were officially against arson, every time they suggested that the election had been stolen they were pouring gasoline on the country. Later, in books and articles about this period, Graham would depict himself as a voice of reason, working behind the scenes to calm the president’s anger. But even in private, Graham didn’t push Trump to concede the election. In fact, he routinely encouraged the president to, quote, keep fighting in the courts. At the same time, on TV, Graham fed Trump’s followers, many of the falsehoods and apocalyptic fantasies that would ultimately drive them to insurrection.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:39
    Gram didn’t use the word rigged, but he repeatedly told Fox News viewers that the electoral system was so stacked against them and so riddled with fraud that Republicans couldn’t prevail. If we don’t fight back in twenty twenty, we’re never going to win again he told them. Here’s Graham talking to Hannity in prime time on November ninth. According to audience metrics, Four million people were watching this show. Graham told them that democratic victories in elections were systematically corrupt.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:14
    We owe
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:15
    it to those who voted for president Trump and the country at large to test this system. If we don’t deal with voting by mail, in twenty twenty, we’ll never win the White House again. Social media, sensors, conservatives, when we want to talk to each other, Get our point of view out. The state of play at American twenty twenty for Republicans is not good. We need to fight back.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:36
    We win because of our ideas, we lose elections because they cheat us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:40
    On December seventh, Graham told Hannity’s audience that Democrats in Georgia had to be stopped before they, quote, steal another election. And on December ninth, he repeatedly suggested to Mike Gallagher, a right wing radio host that based on mathematical anomalies, the presidential vote tallies were phony.
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:02
    We have a system that was created out of nowhere that was run by a bunch of liberal Democrats that violates the laws of the state, where voting took place. And guess what? Trump lost and every other Republican did well. He won nineteen of twenty Bell Weather counties that predict a hundred percent who’s gonna be president of the United States So how could it be that we grow our majority in the how? I grow our numbers in the house, hold the Senate and Trump loses.
  • Speaker 4
    0:16:31
    How can that be?
  • Speaker 5
    0:16:33
    Can’t well, two words cheating and fraud. Senator Lindsey Graham dot com. Thank you, sir, for spending some time with us here fighting for these And keep fighting the good fight. We’ll talk to you soon, and, we In
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:45
    that exchange, you can hear how the propaganda worked. Graham didn’t have to say the election was stolen. He just laid out the numbers and said there was something fishy about them. Gallagher then supplied the predictable answer. Cheating and fraud.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:01
    Did Graham dispute that answer? Nope. Because that’s exactly the answer Graham meant to imply. Even after the Supreme Court dismissed the Texas lawsuit on December eleventh, and even after the electoral college confirmed to Biden’s victory on December fourteenth. Graham refused to say that the election was over.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:24
    As Trump, Graham and other Republicans cried fraud and stoked outrage, Defenders of American democracy worried. In a sixty minutes interview on November fifteenth, former president Barack Obama implicitly compared Trump to authoritarian leaders in other countries. Obama warned Americans, quote, There are strong men and dictators around the world who think they can do anything to stay in power. Graham ridiculed that comparison. He assured Fox News viewers that Trump was nothing like a dictator.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:00
    In the hysterical vocabulary of the left Graham jeered, A dictator is a conservative fighting for their cause, standing up for their rights. On January sixth, twenty twenty one, thousands of Americans, heeding the president’s call to rise up against a stolen election, descended on the United States capital. To fight for his cause.
  • Speaker 6
    0:18:47
    We lost their lives.
  • Speaker 7
    0:19:20
    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. Rest in peace Stitcher,
  • Speaker 8
    0:19:35
    and thanks for 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 9
    0:19:50
    Introducing Rich Valdez, America at night, the podcast.
  • Speaker 10
    0:19:54
    Welcome to the conversation familiar.
  • Speaker 9
    0:19:57
    Perfect blend of news and entertainment, interviews and insights.
  • Speaker 10
    0:20:01
    It’s really just an expose on how messed up things are.
  • Speaker 9
    0:20:05
    America’s nighttime town hall whenever you want.
  • Speaker 10
    0:20:08
    It’s a huge problem that deserves a lot more attention.
  • Speaker 9
    0:20:12
    Rich Valdez, America at night. Follow the podcast. Wherever you listen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:21
    The attack on the capital shook Graham. For four years, He had rationalized and collaborated in everything Trump did, obstructing justice, seizing emergency powers, purging whistleblowers, even refusing to accept electoral defeat. But the violence Graham saw that day dismayed him. So did Trump’s failure to call off the mob? The president in Graham’s mind had finally gone too far.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:52
    During the attack, Graham actually phoned the White House and threatened the president according to reporters Jonathan Last Martin and Alexander Burns. In their book, this will not pass. Martin and Burns report that Graham called up White House Council, Pat Cipollone, and told him that if Trump didn’t step up to condemn the violence, quote, will be asking you for the twenty fifth amendment. Under that amendment, vice president Mike Pence and the cabinet, could formally declare that Trump was unable to discharge his duties. And on that basis, they could replace Trump with pence.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:32
    Essentially, Graham was telling Cipollone that Trump in his present state of mind was unfit to govern the country. That night, after the mob left the Capitol, Graham rose in the Senate to call for unity. He finally said what he had failed to say in the two months since the election, that the stories of massive voter fraud had been debunked that Trump’s election challenges had failed in the courts, that the judiciary was the final arbiter, and that Biden was the legitimate president-elect.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:05
    Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it then this way. Oh my god. I hate it. For my point of view, he’s been a consequential pro.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:14
    But today, first thing you’ll see. All I can say is, count me out enough is enough
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:24
    It seemed that Graham was finally breaking with Trump, but that was a false impression. In fact, Gram was already plotting Trump’s return to power. Gram had been thinking about a Trump comeback since the first days after the election. Not just a challenge to the election results of twenty twenty. But a return to power in twenty twenty four.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:52
    You can hear Graham talking about this idea in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade on November ninth.
  • Speaker 4
    0:22:58
    And I would encourage president Trump. If after all this, he does fall short, to not let this movement die, to consider running again to create an organization platforms, over the next four years to keep his movement alive glowing the Republican representation in minority communities keep fighting for the twenty twenty vote.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:20
    And run again.
  • Speaker 4
    0:23:21
    Not done yet.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:22
    And run again.
  • Speaker 4
    0:23:22
    I would encourage him to think about doing it. I really would because
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:26
    Graham delivered the same message directly to Trump in phone calls. As reported by Bob Bulwark and Robert Costa in their book, Pearl. On November eighteenth, Graham told Trump, quote, You’re gonna be a force in American politics for a long time. And the best way to maintain that power is to wind this thing down in a fashion that gives you a second act. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:49
    A month later, in another phone call, Graham told Trump that in the upcoming election of twenty twenty four, quote, you’ve locked down the Republican Party nomination if you want it. This is what so many people misunderstand about that speech Graham gave on the senate floor on the night of January sixth. When Graham said that he hated to see Trump’s presidency, quote, end this way. He wasn’t renouncing Trump. He was lamenting the damage Trump had done to himself politically.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:20
    Gram had a plan to bring Trump back to power, and he was afraid that the president, by inciting and refusing to stop the attack on the Capitol. Had wrecked that plan. To understand what was going through Graham’s mind during this period, You have to watch the press conference he gave the next day, January seventh. In that press conference, Graham condemned the violence, He also praised Mike Pence for resisting a pressure campaign in the days before January sixth. To block the counting of electoral votes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:56
    Graham described this pressure campaign in the passive voice, so he wouldn’t have to mention that the man who had applied the pressure was Trump. Before the attack on the Capitol, Graham had privately advised Pence that Trump’s scheme to reject electoral vote was unconstitutional. Now in the press conference, Graham repeated that position in public. He acknowledged that the things pence had been asked to do were illegal and unconstitutional. When a reporter pointed out, that the guy who had told Pence to do those things was Trump, Graham argued that the president’s motives were understandable.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:37
    Here’s how Graham explained Trump’s state of mind.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:40
    The president’s frustrated. He thought he was cheated. Nobody’s ever gonna convince him that he wasn’t.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:45
    Graham delivered that explanation as though it absolved the president. But think for a minute about what those words meant. Graham wasn’t just saying that Trump had been misled. He was saying that Trump was completely impervious to being corrected. Trump would never accept regardless of the evidence that the voters had rejected him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:08
    He was like a sexual predator who refuses to accept that a woman has said no. And Trump hadn’t just stewed about his unfounded grievance, He had acted on that grievance as Graham acknowledged by defying the constitution in an attempt to stay in power. Essentially Graham was admitting that Trump was an incurable authoritarian. And yet, Graham didn’t recoil as he would have done five years earlier. Graham was now so accustomed to defending Trump that even an attempted coup by a man who would never recognize that the attempted coup was wrong could not shake Graham’s loyalty.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:53
    To Graham, Trump’s impenetrable certitude wasn’t a pathology that made him unfit for office. It was an excuse A reporter asked Graham whether the president was mentally unwell. Graham said no, he wasn’t. And Graham blamed Trump’s illegal ideas and his false claims about the election, unquote, very bad advisors. But Graham knew that the root problem was Trump.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:21
    He knew that Trump had chosen those advisors precisely because they told the president what he wanted to hear. In fact, Graham would later admit privately In a comment reported by authors Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, that Trump, quote, would have believed Marsians fixed the election if we had told him because he wanted to believe it. And even at this point, nearly twenty four hours after the mob had dispersed from the capital, Gram still wasn’t confident that Trump would leave office without instigating another attack. At the press conference, Graham struggled with that question.
  • Speaker 11
    0:27:58
    Do you trust the president not to incite the kind of violence that he promoted yesterday in the next two weeks?
  • Speaker 12
    0:28:04
    I’m hoping he won’t I’m hoping that he will, allow Mark Meadows to continue with the transition. So my hope is that we can move forward in the next fourteen days. But this will depend on what the president does. I am hopeful that the worst is behind us, and we can transfer power on January twenty
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:24
    Senator, do you believe that, the events of the military have just qualified the president from seeking the office again in the future?
  • Speaker 12
    0:28:34
    I’m not worried about the next election.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:37
    I’m worried about getting through the next fourteen days. Graham didn’t mention that he had privately threatened to invoke the twenty fifth amendment. But given Trump’s behavior on January sixth, Graham held out the possibility of using that amendment. I don’t support an effort to invoke the twenty fifth amendment now, said Graham. But if something else happens, he said, All options would be on the table.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:03
    That press conference stands as a record of how far Graham and his party had descended into outright authoritarianism. Graham believed that Trump had tried to remain in power, against the will of the people through illegal and unconstitutional acts. He believed that Trump would never concede defeat, and therefore, Trump would never renounce his attempted coup and would never accept the legitimacy of the United States government under Joe Biden. And Graham also believe that Trump might incite further violence and might not agree to leave office. And yet, despite all of that, Lindsey Graham intended to restore Donald Trump to On January eighth, the day after that press conference, A band of Trump supporters hounded Graham at Reagan National Airport calling him a traitor.
  • Speaker 6
    0:30:15
    You know it was raped. You know it was raped. It’s gonna be like this forever for everyone.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:29
    That scene at the airport gave rise to a story that was promoted with Glee by Trump and by Graham’s critics. The story was that the confrontation at the airport had chastened Graham and had pushed him back into the president’s camp. But in reality, There’s no evidence that Graham ever seriously wavered in his intention to put Trump back in the White House. In fact, soon after his January seventh press conference, Graham reassured the president that his remarks on the senate floor about their journey together. I hate it to end this way.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:06
    Count me out. Enough is enough. What about giving up on the election of twenty twenty? Not about giving up on Trump’s political future. And during that week after the insurrection, as the house moved toward impeaching Trump, Graham crossed another line in his betrayal of democracy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:25
    To shield the president from accountability, Graham invoked the prospect of bloodshed on the morning of January thirteenth, Graham tweeted that an impeachment of quote, could invite further violence. That evening, after the house approved the article of impeachment, Graham again warned that the impeachment process, quote, could incite further violence. And that night, on Hannity’s TV show, Graham repeated his warning three more times.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:58
    These actions, if they continue, will incite more violence. Every time US president Trump to calm his people down to reject violence to move on. He has done it. Now how has he been met? I think outrageous misconduct by the Congress itself.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:15
    What good comes from impeaching president Trump after he’s out of office? That’s an unconstitutional attack on the presidency. It will divide the country. It will incite violence. We should reject post presidential impeachments because will destroy the country and it will incite violence.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:31
    If you wanna end the violence, end impeachment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:34
    Again, just to be clear, Gram wasn’t endorsing violence. He was just stating as a prediction and as a warning that if Congress continued down the path of impeachment, Somebody would get hurt. A mob assembled by the president had just attacked Congress And Graham was suggesting that if Congress didn’t behave itself, something like that might happen again. Essentially, Graham was using the prospect of violence incited by an authoritarian leader as leverage. To protect that leader, from being held accountable for his attempted coup.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:14
    Think for a minute about what Graham said to Hannity in that inter you that the house should have, quote, met trump in a more conciliatory way after the president consented belatedly to reject violence. Graham was implying that the peaceful transfer of power was no longer an iron clad rule worthy of congressional enforcement. It was an act of grace by the president, for which Congress in Graham’s view, should have been grateful. And don’t forget Graham’s parting words to Hannity. If you want to end the violence and impeachment, that warning from Graham to Congress was an overt threat.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:57
    In all his years of service to Trump, this was the lowest tactic to which Grant had stooped. How had the United States come to this? How could a senior senator and many of his colleagues defend a president who had used violence to try to stay in power after losing an election. How could they justify returning such a man to the nation’s highest office. Political violence was common in many other countries, and elites often used or tolerated it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:32
    But America was supposed to be different. How could that kind of tolerance happen here One disturbingly simple answer is that the senators who held Trump’s fate in their hands were in many cases, the same senators who sometimes excused or collaborated with strong men in other countries. And they decided to deal with Trump the same way. Graham, for instance, had made his peace with Rajip Taib Erdogan, the president of Turkey. Graham didn’t like Erdogan’s suppression of domestic descent or his increasing centralization of power But he worried that Erdogan might steer Turkey away from NATO and toward Russia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:16
    So Graham decided that the United States suck it up and, quote, do business with Erdogan. Later, Graham would make a similar calculation in Saudi Arabia. In twenty eighteen, after Crown Prince Mohammed Will Saletan, ordered the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident journalist. Graham had vowed never to deal with the crown prince. But in April twenty twenty three, Graham flew to Saudi Arabia and met with the crown prince to, quote, enhance the US Saudi relationship.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:50
    In an interview with Saudi TV, Graham explained his reverse on that?
  • Speaker 12
    0:35:55
    Well, a couple of reasons I came. Number one, the kingdom has just purchased thirty seven billion dollars. Of seven eighty seven, boying dreamliners made in South Carolina.
  • Speaker 11
    0:36:06
    Amazing deal for the
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:07
    for Yeah.
  • Speaker 12
    0:36:08
    So I got a hard and fast rule. You buy thirty seven billion dollars of products bathe in my state. I’m gonna come and say thank you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:15
    As a would be autocrat, Trump wasn’t in the same league as Mohammed bin Salman. But in many respect, Trump was a lot like Erdogan. Trump had frequently called for jailing his own political opponents. In twenty nineteen, to fund his border wall He had seized emergency powers to override the will of Congress. And two weeks before the January sixth attack, in a meeting at the White House, Trump and a circle of loyalists had discussed proposals to claim emergency powers again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:48
    This time to see his voting machines. And if necessary, use the military to, quote, rerun the twenty twenty election. In the days after Trump’s coup attempt, Graham decided that just as the United States needed Erdogan, the Republican Party still needed Trump. Graham was worried that Trump would leave the party and take his voters with him. On January nineteenth, the Wall Street Journal reported that the president irked that some Republicans weren’t standing by him was talking about forming a so called patriot party.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:25
    Graham said he hoped that Trump wouldn’t do that. I hope he’ll stay the leader of the Republican party, said Graham. Over the next two weeks, Graham came up with various arguments against convicting Trump at his upcoming trial in the senate. All of the arguments were phony. Graham said it was cruel and pointless to impeach Trump since Trump was leaving office and returning to private life.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:52
    But Graham knew it wasn’t cruel or pointless since he was planning to bring Trump back to power. Graham also complained that the house had impeached Trump without calling witnesses. But at the same time, Graham warned Democrats not to call witnesses in the Senate. Gram claimed that Trump’s incitement of the January sixth attack wasn’t serious enough to warrant impeachment. But Graham applied no such standards to other presidents.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:22
    As a congressman in the nineteen nineties, Graham had fame led the impeachment of president Bill Clinton for covering up a sexual affair. And later, Graham would demand the impeachment of Biden for failing to stop illegal immigration. At one point, Graham actually said out loud that he was offering arguments to his Republican colonies, quote, if you’re looking for a reason to stop this impeachment and to dismiss it as soon as possible. He was openly inventing excuses to let Trump off the hook. Graham’s real reason, the only stated reason that matched his behavior was that if Republican senators turned against Trump, Trump would destroy the party.
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:08
    If this party is going to survive, we gotta realize that Donald Trump had a consequential presidency for conservatives that he’s gonna be the strongest voice in the party. I realize that, and I appreciate that. And the test for president Trump is will he help us in twenty twenty two take back the house the Senate because without his help, we cannot take back the house and the Senate with his help. I think we can.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:33
    Graham made that point to his colleagues repeatedly. And on February thirteenth, three weeks after Trump left office. Graham got his wish. Forty three of the Senate’s fifty Republicans voted to acquit Trump, blocking his conviction, and clearing his path to run for president again. Preparing Trump for his return would take time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:59
    There was a lot of white washing to do. In a poll taken during the impeachment trial, fifty five percent of Americans said Trump should not be allowed to hold office again. But Trump still had a grip on the GOP. In the same poll, seventy five percent of Republicans said they wanted the former president to play a prominent role in the party. And that said Graham, was Trump’s path back to power.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:28
    You are the hope. The future of conservatism Graham told Trump in a Fox News interview, three days after his acquittal. Gazing into the camera, Graham assured him. You own the Republican Party my friend. Coming up next time on the corruption of Lindsey Graham, Trump reasserts control of his party.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:52
    And Graham joins him in a purge of dissenters.
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:56
    And to try to erase Donald Trump from the Republican Party, is insane. And the people who try to erase him are gonna wind up getting erased. It’s impossible for this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:06
    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 Lapp, and Adam Kiper and to Charlie Sykes.
  • Speaker 9
    0:41:40
    Makes a little sports analysis, pop culture, and great interviews. And you’ve got the rich Eisenhower Show pod the jets are bracing themselves into doing hard knocks this year.
  • Speaker 13
    0:41:49
    Bracing themselves. Look, coaches wanna control the controllables. They don’t to have a camera crew in the building. You know, I know that they wanna lie low. This is what happens when you go and swing for the fences and get out of Rogers.
  • Speaker 13
    0:42:04
    Are you kidding me?
  • Speaker 9
    0:42:05
    The rich Eisenhower Secret Podcast. Wherever you listen.
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