Journalists should treat Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) pending Judiciary Committee hearings into the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe as an abuse of power intended as political payback. After all, Graham has explicitly said that would be why he would conduct such an inquiry.
Graham issued a startling threat during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on November 14, 2018. House Democrats had just won a majority in the midterm elections, and their incoming committee chairs were proposing rigorous investigations of the Trump administration. But Republicans held the Senate, putting Graham in line to become chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Graham warned congressional Democrats that if he became Senate Judiciary chairperson and House Democrats investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, he would retaliate by probing whether there was “political bias” involved in the FBI’s handling of the Russia probe and its decision not to indict former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in relation to her use of a private email server. Those allegations are at the heart of numerous conspiracy theories that had been championed by Hannity, his Fox colleagues, and President Donald Trump.
“You know, to my Democratic friends, if you want to look backward, we are all going to look backward,” he told a clearly ecstatic Hannity.
Graham explicitly explained that he would only do such an investigation in response to a House Democratic one. “If you are going to keep plowing everything up in 2016, count me in,” he said. “If you want to look forward, I will look forward. If you want to look back, we’re going to all look back to everything and everybody, not just Trump.”
Graham did become head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Democrats did begin to probe Russian election interference. (They are currently embroiled in a legal fight with the administration over whether they will be able to see some redacted material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.) And so, while the Clinton aspect seems to have fallen by the wayside, here comes the promised retaliatory investigation into the FBI’s Russia probe.
Graham announced on Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on June 4 to subpoena dozens of former Obama administration officials as part of the probe, and he added Tuesday he wants to publish a final report before Election Day. That means Graham intends to spend the months leading up to Trump’s reelection fight with former Vice President Joe Biden grilling Biden’s former colleagues about purported wrongdoing from the administration Biden helped lead.
The planned hearings come amid government-wide effort to focus attention on Obama-era pseudoscandals dredged up by Fox in order to bolster Trump’s reelection campaign and slake his thirst to punish his perceived political opponents.
Trump’s own administration officials have been diligently trying to suborn the government as an arm of the president’s authoritarian will. Attorney General William Barr has spent months quarterbacking a federal criminal investigation of the early days of the Russia probe while seeking to get Trump associates off the hook for crimes investigated under its auspices. Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is now releasing crumbs of information to bolster the same fantasies. And Trump himself has begun bellowing about “OBAMAGATE,” a complex bit of bullshit which involves former President Barack Obama’s purported commission of unspecified crimes.
But the president is unsatisfied with containing that work to the executive branch officials who report to him. “Trump in recent days has leaned on allies in the Senate, including Graham and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to ramp up their probes of Obama administration officials, as Trump has sought to level unsupported allegations of criminality by his predecessor against his incoming administration,” Politico reported this week. Graham’s isn’t the only Senate committee chair to be thus enlisted -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) recently revived the Homeland Security Committee’s dormant probe of Ukrainian business dealings conducted by Hunter Biden while his father Joe Biden was vice president.
There is no reason for journalists to treat Graham’s probe as anything other than the vindictive act he admitted it would be. Hannity, for one, understands that the purpose of the investigation is retaliation.
“Buckle up all of you deep state saboteurs that are there,” he said during a Tuesday night monologue, as an on-screen graphic displayed a scrolling list of the officials Graham plans to subpoena. “This will be summer camp with your lawyers. You're going to have to spend a lot of time with them in air-conditioned offices. Hope you like a lot of coffee.”
Hannity also highlighted the potential legal exposure their testimony could create. “They will likely be forced to answer questions under oath,” he said. “Remember, by the way, lying under oath is a serious crime. They are the ones that tell us that.”
Hannity and his colleagues spent years concocting absurd conspiracy theories and pushing government officials to run with them. Now they’ve got Barr, Grenell, and Graham doing their dirty work.