sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) reached new heights of political celebrity during the Trump years but is now in the midst of a criminal investigation over the battle for Georgia in the 2020 presidential race.
A special grand jury in Fulton County has subpoenaed Graham along with other Trump insiders as part of an investigation into possible criminal interference in Georgia’s 2020 election, which Joe Biden narrowly won by 12,670 votes.
Graham’s attorneys issued a statement Wednesday saying the South Carolina senior senator is not the subject or target of the investigation, which they denounced as a “fishing expedition.”
His attorneys, Bart Daniel and Matt Austin, said they would challenge the subpoena in court, raising the prospect of a lengthy legal battle.
“As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Graham had ample discretion to discuss electoral management processes and procedures with state officials. If the subpoena persists, the subpoena issued today would erode the constitutional balance of power and the ability of a member of Congress to do their job,” they said in a statement Wednesday. “Sen. Graham plans to go to court, challenge the subpoena and expect to prevail.
The Fulton County District Attorney’s office on Wednesday said it would respond in the appropriate court to force Graham’s appearance if necessary.
Democrats say Graham’s actions after Trump narrowly lost Georgia were highly unusual and appear to have deviated from the Senate’s regular oversight process.
Graham called Georgia’s Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger shortly after Biden barely carried the state to question him about the validity of thousands of ballots.
What surprised Senate insiders is that Graham contacted Raffensperger directly instead of letting the staff handle what the senator described as an intelligence-gathering mission.
“It is certainly disturbing that a United States senator is being questioned about the events surrounding Donald Trump’s attempts to pressure Georgian officials to undo the election results,” said Ray Zaccaro, a Democratic strategist and former Senate aide who worked. to voting law.
“Lindsey Graham does not represent the state of Georgia. Lindsey Graham has an official legislative role, but he is not an investigator, he is not an election officer, he is not one of the president’s lawyers, he is not a representative of the president,” he said.
Zaccaro said that although Graham was the chair of the Judiciary Committee at the time, “that was not the way the committee would oversee.”
“It was certainly unusual and unorthodox,” he said. “Nothing about his role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time would merit that involvement, as far as I know.”
While Graham’s legal team says he is not the target or subject of the investigation into criminal election interference, his involvement in the investigation raises questions about whether he could be held criminally liable at some point.
Stanley Brand, a former House general counsel and congressional ethics specialist, said Graham could seek protection under the Constitution’s “Speech and Debate” clause, which protects lawmakers from arrest while performing their official duties.
“I think there are arguably implications for speech and debate here, not least his internal deliberations with his colleagues, as this was something that would be voted on,” he said, noting that Graham had contacted Raffensperger before he and other senators would vote Jan. 6 on objections to the certification of Biden’s victory.
But Brand said the lawsuit is darkened by Graham’s interaction with state officials outside of Congress itself.
“The more difficult question is how much his conversations with Raffensperger would be covered,” he said.
While Brand said the Judiciary’s Panel has a supervisory responsibility, he noted “dicta” in the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Gravel v. United States, indicating that “messages” lawmakers carry out with agencies that are not part of their legislative function, are not protected by the speech and debate clause.
“That’s almost a question-by-question provision,” he said, explaining that the protection of the speech and debate clause is largely determined by how a court can decide.
Some Democratic lawmakers believe Attorney General Merrick Garland will respond to the findings of the House’s Jan. 6 committee to investigate and indict members of Trump’s inner circle over their efforts to promote Biden’s 2020 victory to block.
Federal investigators last month searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department attorney who, according to recent Congressional testimony, tried to persuade Trump to put him in charge of Justice so he could send a letter to the Georgia election officials in which he falsely claimed the Department had “signed significant concerns” with the state’s election results.
Other Trump allies subpoenaed by the Fulton County DA took an active part in a strategy to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, according to testimonies made public by the House select panel. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, as well as other Trump-affiliated attorneys — John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell, Jenna Ellis, and Kenneth Chesebro — also received subpoenas.
Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, told The Washington Post shortly after Graham called him that he was dismayed that Graham seemed to suggest finding a way to issue ballots legally cast.
Graham at the time disputed Raffensperger’s claim as “ridiculous” and insisted he was just trying to understand how electoral law worked in Georgia.
“The most important thing for me is: how do you protect the integrity of mail voting and how does signature verification work?” he said.
More than a year and a half later, that claim is under intense scrutiny by Fulton County DA Fani Willis, colleagues in Congress and the media.
Since the news that Graham has contacted Raffensperger and his staff twice about reviewing Georgia’s absentee ballots for possible fraud, more evidence has become public through the House’s Jan. was an organized and concerted effort by Trump allies to nullify Biden’s 2020 victory.
Graham’s close relationship with Trump and his regular access to the president have cast doubt on the senators’ claims that he was participating in a fact-finding mission with no intention of pressuring election officials in any way.
Issac J. Bailey, a professor of public policy and communication studies at Davidson College in North Carolina, noted that Graham initially kept Trump at a distance during the 2016 election, but later moved on to his power.
He said Graham’s close relationship with Trump prompted him to call Georgia’s election officials.
“Old Lindsey Graham would never have been in this position, never would have been on the phone pressuring lawmakers in another state to influence the outcome of an election,” Bailey told The Hill.
“After initially rightly keeping Trump at bay and rightly mentioning the danger many of us saw in 2016, he has given up on all of that to gain Trump’s favor,” he said.
Regardless, Republican strategists don’t see Graham suffering political damage at home given Trump’s massive popularity in South Carolina.
“I’m not sure the simple act of getting caught up in this hurts Graham because of the nature of the South Carolina electorate and especially the Republican Party and the typical Republican voter in the state of South Carolina. It’s not like he’s going to be penalized in the polls for that,” said James Wallner, a former Republican Senate aide who now teaches Congress and American constitutional law at Clemson University.
Wallner said the legal ramifications are harder to predict.
“What comes out of this is another story and we can’t write that chapter until we get there,” he said.