President Donald Trump could use some allies in the Senate after Democrats took the House of Representatives this month and promised to unleash a “subpoena cannon” on the Trump administration.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham could be just the advocate Trump needs in the coming months after he said he would “totally” investigate the FBI’s handling of the Russia probe and Hillary Clinton’s email scandal if he becomes head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The oversight function will be very much front and center,” Graham promised in an appearance on CNN.
The South Carolina legislator, who has emerged as one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Senate since Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, is set to replace the current chairman of the judiciary committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), if Grassley decides to lead the Senate Finance Committee instead. Graham has gone on the record several times suggesting that a second special counsel should be appointed to examine allegations of bias among federal investigators.
Questions about Clinton’s use of an unauthorized homebrew server remain more than two years after an investigation into the matter ended, such as the status of 33,000 missing emails that the former secretary of State deleted or destroyed after learning that the FBI was interested in her communications. Despite evidence of abuse and corruption among FBI and Justice Department leadership in that case, a subsequent inspector general report failed to find bias among investigators because of impossibly rigid standards for doing so.
The FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race has been similarly troubled by partisanship. Based on the thinnest of pretenses, the Obama White House sent undercover informants to spy on the Trump campaign, and investigators at the FBI and DOJ used uncorroborated opposition research paid for by the Clinton campaign to convince secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges to allow agents to electronically monitor members of the Trump team.
The common denominator in both cases is a single, crooked FBI agent. Special Agent Peter Strzok initiated the clandestine investigation of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, just after his role as head agent-in-charge of the Clinton email scandal was ending.
Thousands of text messages between Strzok and his mistress at the bureau show that he was an outspoken critic of Trump and wanted to “stop” him from getting elected. Strzok’s communications also demonstrate that he concealed some “VERY inflammatory things” from Congress and planned to use an “insurance policy” in the event that Trump won the election.
Graham pressed Inspector General Michael Horowitz for details related to Strzok’s latter statement in a June 2018 letter, writing: “I believe it would be of grave consequence if the Deputy Director of the FBI [Andrew McCabe] met with the lead investigator of the Clinton Email and Russia investigations to talk about ‘an insurance policy’ against Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.”
Protecting their own
Democrats worry that President Trump may seek to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel prosecutor appointed in May 2017 to take over the Russia interference investigation. But while Graham said he would support legislation to protect Mueller’s appointment, he said he doesn’t believe there’s a need for it.
“This is a manufactured problem,” Graham said on Fox News. “Trump is not going to fire Mueller. He’s going to be allowed to do his job.” Trump has repeatedly stated that although he thinks he has the authority to fire the special counsel, he would respect the process since he claims that he is innocent of any collusion charges.
Still, progressive lawmakers have revamped calls to codify the special counsel’s legitimacy since Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections. They fear that his temporary replacement, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, could undermine Mueller’s authority.
Before his appointment, Whitaker penned an op-ed arguing that Mueller had exceeded his original mandate to investigate Russia collusion and that the scope of his investigative powers should be limited.
While Graham doesn’t think that Trump will get rid of the special counsel, he does see some practical application for legislation protecting Mueller’s role.
“I don’t see any movement to get rid of Mueller,” he said on Tuesday. “But it probably would be good to have this legislation in place just for the future.”