I question the timing — not the timing with the impeachment hearings per se, but with rising unhappiness in TrumpWorld with Lindsey Graham over them. Last night, the Senate Judiciary chair told Sean Hannity that he now plans to demand records from the State Department relating to any conversation between Joe Biden and then-president Petro Poroshenko the month before Biden’s demand to have their general prosecutor fired. Graham’s questioning the timing too, saying that the explanations surrounding Viktor Shokin’s firing “don’t add up”:
Sen. Lindsey Graham wants access to phone transcripts between Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s leader in the month before a top prosecutor, who was alleged to have investigated the owner of the natural gas company that employed Biden’s son, was fired. …
In a letter he plans to send to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, Graham said he will request any records of conversations Biden had with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in February 2016.
“I want to know if there’s any transcript or readouts of the phone calls between the vice president and the president of the Ukraine in February after the raid on the gas company president’s house,” the South Carolina Republican told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday.
Why is the timing curious? Earlier in the same evening, Fox News host Tucker Carlson had blasted Graham for empty threats of holding the bureaucracy accountable for its abuses. In this instance, Graham had spent considerable time on Fox blasting the FBI for tipping off CNN to Roger Stone’s impending arrest and promised to hold the bureau accountable. Carlson noted Graham’s lack of follow-through and called it emblematic of Senate Republicans’ lack of intestinal fortitude:
Taking aim at Graham, Carlson proclaimed, “As he often does, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina claimed to be the champion of outraged conservatives. Graham fired off a letter to the director of the FBI demanding to know who had tipped off CNN to the Stone raid. Graham then bragged about that letter in a press release, as well as on Twitter. Then came on this channel to brag about it some more.”
After showing a clip of Graham on Tucker Carlson Tonight saying, “They better answer my letter. If I were them I would,” Carlson responded, “Ooh… Sounds pretty tough. So whatever happened to all that?”
“Well as it turns out, nothing. We called Graham’s office to follow up, which we in the press rarely do, and the staff explained to us that Graham met in person with the FBI’s deputy director, who told Graham that he ‘did not think it was an FBI agent who tipped off CNN to the stone raid.’ Did you catch that? The FBI wasn’t sure, but ‘didn’t think’ they did it,” the Fox News host remarked. “The FBI had nothing at all to say about DOJ or the special counsel’s office, both of whom Graham had asked about in his letter. Apparently the FBI just ignored that part of the question. They never even responded. Nine months later, Lindsey Graham does not appear to have done anything to press the FBI further or to get to the bottom of the mystery.”
“In fact, his staff seemed annoyed to be asked about it, as if promises made on cable news weren’t meant to be taken seriously. They’re just theatrical events staged for the benefit of voters at home. Conservative noises designed to help with the next Republican primary back in South Carolina,” Carlson concluded. “No one in Washington expects you to do anything real once you get off the air. They know the deal, it’s just a performance for the dummies back at home. Pretty cynical. But then, a lot of United States senators are pretty cynical, even the Republicans. Unfortunately for them, their voters are starting to figure it out.”
The complaints about Senate Republicans aren’t just coming from TV hosts, either. The Hill reported this morning that House Republicans, especially those in the impeachment hearings, have grown very frustrated with Lindsey Graham’s hands-off approach. Republicans in the House have very limited ability to call their own witnesses to counter Adam Schiff’s narrative in these hearings, but Graham could open his own hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And they’re tired of waiting for him to do it, too:
Asked if the Senate should step in and call witnesses left out of the House impeachment hearing, Jordan said “heck, yeah” and “sure they should.”
GOP leaders specially appointed Jordan to the Intelligence Committee last month to spearhead Trump’s defense.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), another member of the House Intelligence Committee, said “there really could be” a bigger role played by Senate Republicans because Schiff has blocked House GOP requests for witnesses who could show that Trump had a legitimate interest in pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate corruption.
“We’re really stymied here,” he said.
Wenstrup said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) could bolster Republican counterarguments by launching their own investigations.
“I would love for them to do it because that’s the only way I think we’re going to get to the whole truth,” he said.
The strategy of keeping powder dry does make some sense, if one expects to get handed articles of impeachment no matter what. Staying out of the House fray allows Graham to conserve his political capital and credibility for the trial phase, when Republicans will get the opportunity to control subpoena power and narratives. Tipping his hand now will only allow Democrats to adjust to that early. Plus, until Schiff and Jerrold Nadler actually produce the articles, it’s tough to know how to respond without inadvertently making matters worse.
Still, the rather imperious nature of Schiff’s control and the wild, speculative claims Schiff has been airing makes the situation for House Republicans almost unbearable. They feel beleaguered in the situation now and worry much less what might happen down the road. Graham’s caution might have its purposes, but it’s not sustainable for much longer. Hence we now have Graham firing this shot across the Democrats’ bow — assuming State even has records responsive to this request. What happens if they don’t?