There’s something … familiar about this.
Ah, that’s right. It’s an exact replica of what happened during the impeachment saga, when TrumpWorld wanted to fight fire with fire by hauling Hunter Biden — and maybe Joe Biden — before Graham’s Judiciary Committee to answer questions about Burisma and the Ukrainian government. Graham hemmed and hawed and said noncommittal things about looking into it and seeking documents, but his reluctance was obvious and highly irritating to the president and his inner circle, like Don Jr. I remember reports at the time of top Trumpers grumbling about how Graham talks a good game but seldom takes the gloves off to help his side.
Now here we are again, with Ukraine a distant memory and “ObamaGate” the president’s top priority. When is Lindsey Graham going to take the gloves off and demand that Obama answer tough questions?
If I were Trump I’d be cautious about setting a precedent in which it’s fair game for Congress to subpoena ex-presidents and demand that they answer for their administration’s sins. I think it *is* fair game, to be clear; Obama shouldn’t enjoy any sort of lifetime immunity from testifying because of a job he held for eight years. But knowing how much Democrats hate him and the 50/50 prospects that he’ll be a private citizen again next January, Trump might want to carefully consider what sort of new norm he’s setting here.
In his defense, Democrats will haul him before the House next year — or try to — if he loses the election no matter what happens with Obama right now. So he might as well tighten the screws on O.
And on Graham, by extension. This was retweeted last night by Don Jr:
Exactly. @LindseyGrahamSC look at what @RichardGrenell is doing and just follow his example. Stop talking. Do something. And @seanhannity how about giving Little Linds some time off so he can actually do his damn job? https://t.co/yyE92q0TS8
— Ned Ryun (@nedryun) May 13, 2020
Graham replied this morning that he’ll open an investigation into how the Russiagate probe began and whether a special counsel was truly ever necessary. He also told reporters that he plans on calling DOJ officials to explain how and why the Mike Flynn case was handled the way it was. Calling Obama, though? Nope:
“I don’t think now’s the time for me to do that. I don’t know if that’s even possible. I have grave concerns about the role of executive privilege and all kinds of issues,” Graham said in a brief interview. “I understand President Trump’s frustration, but be careful what you wish for. Just be careful what you wish for.”…
“I’m very, very sensitive to the separation of powers, executive branch — we do have oversight of it as Congress, appropriate oversight,” Graham said. “But hauling a former president before an oversight committee, I don’t think that’s been done before. And presidentially, I’d be careful what I wish for.”
Graham sees the backfire potential here for Trump from a mile away. “I am greatly concerned about the precedent that would be set by calling a former president for oversight,” he added, noting that Obama could always assert executive privilege in refusing to discuss conversations he had with his advisors while he was president. But I don’t think that’s what Graham’s really worried about, that Obama would show up and then duck every question that was asked of him. That would actually be a *great* outcome for the GOP since O’s evasiveness would make him look shady.
I think Graham’s worried about the same thing he was worried about in not calling Hunter Biden, that there would turn out to be not much “there” there after questioning and then he’d be pilloried by TrumpWorld for failing to deliver the goods for the president. That was a minor risk with a ne’er-do-well oaf like Biden but it’s a major risk with a figure like Obama, who might exploit the opportunity to rail against Trump and possibly persuade the public that his administration handled the Flynn matter responsibly. The guy’s not an amateur; however much one may dislike him, he communicated effectively enough with the public to get elected twice. Graham surely realizes that O’s a more popular figure than Trump too, which would predispose swing voters to side with him in an “Obama vs. GOP” showdown. The odds of him being caught in some aha-gotcha lie are lower than him using the spotlight to damage Trump and Senate Republicans.
Graham has a special reason to avoid confrontation with Obama too. Although he’s almost a sure thing to win his Senate race fall, there’s enough uncertainty from the pandemic and the economy and enough anxiety about Trump’s polling against Biden that election experts are no longer listing his seat as “safe.” It’s now “likely Republican.” His opponent, Jaime Harrison, outraised him in the last quarter; Harrison is African-American, and there’s a large African-American minority in South Carolina that may or may not be out in force for Biden this fall. The spectacle of Graham grilling the first black president on national television will make it that much more likely that black Democrats in SC will show up to beat him in November. A president who cared more about his party and its congressional incumbents would have recognized that and been careful not to place Graham in a political jam publicly where he’s forced to choose between antagonizing his state’s black voters on the one hand or his state’s Trump fans on the other. McConnell probably barfed when he saw the Trump tweet above, for exactly that reason.
More than anything, Graham may fear that calling Obama to testify would end up supporting the Democratic narrative that Trump is focused on the wrong things amid the coronavirus crisis. He can get away with calling DOJ officials and Obama administration alumni like Clapper because the public is largely inured to that sort of hearing, but if he calls Obama it’d be a media circus. And without any doubt, Obama would use the soapbox provided by the hearing to press his party’s case that Trump and the GOP are using the Flynn case to distract the public from Trump’s terrible mishandling of the COVID-19 epidemic. Graham knows it too. He’s not afraid of calling Obama because he thinks O will decline his invitation or assert executive privilege if he shows up. He’s afraid that Obama will accept and engage.
Exit question: Do 23 percent of Republicans really want to nominate someone other than Trump? That smells off, but Rasmussen isn’t normally known for anti-Trump polling.
Sen. @LindseyGrahamSC on President Trump tweet about President Obama testifying: "I think it would be a bad precedent to compel a former president to come before the Congress, that would open up a can of worms. For a variety of reasons, I don't think that's a good idea." pic.twitter.com/CwuYP8EJ6J
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 14, 2020