2016 election meddling was all Russia, not Ukraine, says ... Lindsey Graham

I’m surprised to find him contradicting Trump this sharply, especially so soon after TrumpWorld intimidated him into using the Judiciary Committee to investigate the Bidens and Burisma. The developing GOP party line is that the president was right to pressure Zelensky to look into the supposedly missing CrowdStrike server because it could prove that the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta was actually a Ukrainian false flag operation. Maybe they made it look like Russia did the hacking in order to frame their archenemy, Putin, for the crime. And they did such a sweet-ass job of it that they convinced literally everyone in the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that the Kremlin was responsible. Only the supposedly missing server, which is apparently on display at DNC headquarters right next to a file cabinet that was broken into during Watergate, can reveal the truth.

Graham’s not having it, which makes this possibly the first issue raised during the Ukraine impeachment process on which he and Mitt Romney completely agree. Do the president and his allies need to give him another rhetorical beating like they did on the Biden matter to put him back on the same page as them?

I don’t think it would work in this case, actually. Graham is normally a loyal servant of the president’s but there’s one consistent noteworthy exception to that rule.

“It was the Russians. I’m 1,000% confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else,” the South Carolina senator told reporters on Capitol Hill.

He reiterated his stance to CNN saying, “I’ve got no doubt that it was the Russians who stole the DNC emails. It wasn’t Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails and (John) Podesta and all that good stuff.”

Graham continued later in the same interview: “So as to the Ukraine, they had zero to do with the hacking of the DNC and the stealing of the emails. Whether or not people from the Ukraine met with DNC operatives, I don’t know. All I’ve seen is press reports that no one has validated.”

The noteworthy exception to Graham’s servility is that he’s always been an ardent foreign-policy hawk. It’s his defining trait as a politician. He’s polite in stating his disagreement when Trump lunges towards isolationism in some theater abroad (although you get the sense that he’s polite because he needs to be, not because he wants to be) but I can’t think of an example where Trump has cowed Graham into adopting his own foreign policy preferences. Lindsey is still a hardcore McCain guy in that respect.

And so, as eager as he is to carry water for the president on impeachment and virtually anything else, he’s going to draw the line at carrying water for Russia. Asking Graham to take the Kremlin’s side against anyone, but especially against a state like Ukraine that’s fighting to break free of Russian influence, is asking too much even if it would benefit the president to do so. Lindsey will choose Romney over Trump in those limited circumstances.

The fact that pro-Trumpers like Graham and anti-Trumpers like Mitt are united on this point is apparently weighing on some of their Senate colleagues who are willing to go further in carrying Trump’s water on Ukraine and 2016:

Republican Sen. John Kennedy said he’s done talking about Ukraine, days after stirring up a controversy with his on-again, off-again, on-again theories about whether Ukraine meddled in the 2016 US election…

CNN asked the Louisiana senator — who is famous for his loquacious, Southern-accented and folksy manner — if that meant he’s never again talking about the Ukraine interference matter, after making headlines on the issue for days.

“No,” he said, he wasn’t. “Reasonable people can disagree. I believe what I believe and some people believe otherwise and they are entitled to it.”

It’ll be awkward at Trump’s trial if news trickles out that Republicans are bickering behind the scenes about whether to aggressively pursue Trump’s CrowdStrike conspiracy theory or not during questioning of witnesses. That may be another reason why Graham was so firm today: He wants to short-circuit the CrowdStrike thing before it gains any more traction within the caucus, knowing that there are many better reasons the GOP can cite for voting to acquit Trump. By taking the position he has, he’s making it easy for the media to press Kennedy on the subject in any upcoming interviews he chooses to do. “Even Lindsey Graham says this is bonkers, senator, and he’s as outspoken a Donald Trump fan as anyone in that chamber.” No wonder Kennedy’s done with the topic.

Here’s Kennedy this morning on “Fox & Friends” responding to criticism from Hillary Clinton, before he declared he was finished with this subject.