Politics & Government

A lawyer and a senator: Graham struggles to play both parts in Kavanaugh drama

Lindsey Graham
Lindsey Graham TNS

When Sen. Lindsey Graham was a practicing lawyer, he prosecuted rapists and defended their victims.

“I learned how much unexpected courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailants,” the South Carolina Republican wrote in his 2015 autobiography.

“Trying to get a scared, confused, little kid or young woman who feels the best part of her life is over to recall a memory that their every psychological impulse is trying to suppress is not something you forget,” he continued. “It has stayed with me ever since.”

Decades later, Graham is taking to Twitter to assure constituents the Senate will confirm Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh — even before the Senate Judiciary Committee hears new testimony from him and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of attempted rape when the two were in high school.

“The President is dead right about Judge Kavanaugh being highly qualified, the right person for the job, and also right about letting process play out,” Graham tweeted late Thursday evening after President Donald Trump addressed the controversy at a rally in Nevada. “Kavanaugh nomination is still on track. Stay tuned!”

The “two Lindsey Grahams” are clearly on display as the Kavanaugh drama unfolds.

There is the Graham who spent years as an attorney in the U.S. Air Force and then private practice, a thoughtful lawyer who touts the importance of fairness and puts a premium on hearing both sides of an issue before reaching any conclusions.

“I’ve been a prosecutor, a judge and a defense attorney,” Graham said this week. “I’ve been literally doing this all my life.”

But there’s also the conservative senator who has served in Congress since 1995 — the senator in line to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year if Republicans retain control of the chamber.

It’s the Graham who could face a primary challenge from the far right in 2020, is fiercely loyal to his party and likely has already made up his mind about Kavanaugh.

“(Graham) knows damn well there are some issues here that needs to be addressed,” said Jim Manley, a former adviser to ex-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts.

Manley observed Graham up close for years, watching him work with Democrats, including his old bosses, to find common ground. Graham was one of the architects of a 2005 compromise that broke a stalemate over confirming President George W. Bush administration judges. Fourteen senators, seven from each party, brokered the deal; only two, Graham and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are still senators.

“This is someone who worked hard over the years to craft a mainstream centrist position as the go-to person for deal-making,” Manley said of Graham. “Now, he’s part of the group that’s pushing this nomination through, come hell or high water.”

Early in the week, Graham was hinting he had doubts about how Ford’s claims would hold up in a court of law.

“This case would never go to criminal trial because of the statute of limitations ... (which) are designed to make sure that things that are too hard to reconstruct are not used to put somebody in jail,” Graham explained. “From a civil point of view, if you wanted to sue Judge Kavanaugh, I don’t think you’d find any lawyers to take this case because it’s so unspecific about time, locations.”

Still, in the immediate aftermath of Ford revealing her identity and publicizing her accusations against Kavanaugh, Graham indicated he was as sensitive to her as he was to his clients alleging abuse all those years ago.

Graham called Ford’s situation “tough” and “emotional.” He said he hoped to hear her testimony, but added “It’s not my goal to drag her out in front of the public ... I don’t want to belittle her.”

“He was one of the first senators to say, ‘She should be heard,’” said Andrew King, a former legislative director in Graham’s Senate office who now works in a Washington consulting firm and manages Graham’s political action committee.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh's accuser should testify under oath, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on September 17, 2018. The woman is willing to tell her story to a Senate panel considering his nomination to the Supreme Court, her lawyer said .

Yet as the week went on, Graham grew less circumspect. He hinted that Democrats might have purposefully withheld Ford’s allegations until the eleventh hour to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“If I had something that I believed was serious and credible, that would disqualify a person from being a judge, I would talk to them about it,” Graham said.

He suggested lawmakers couldn’t be asked to weigh everything they already know about Kavanaugh against one woman’s accusations from an event far into the past.

“I can say that when you’re talking about a party I didn’t attend 36 years ago, how am I supposed to know exactly what happened? That’s not the way it works,” said Graham.

And under no circumstances should a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh be delayed past the midterms to accommodate an FBI investigation into Ford’s claims or allow other witnesses to testify, he said.

“We run the committee,” Graham said of Republicans, “not (Ford’s) lawyer, not the Democrats.”

By the time Graham tweeted Thursday evening, he was fully telegraphing his intent to vote for Kavanaugh even before he’d had a chance to hear from Ford.

This isn’t the first time Graham has put on his lawyer hat and walked into a deeply partisan arena. In 1999, as a member of the House, Graham was one of 13 House members who presented articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.

If Graham is being political now, King suggested the senator wasn’t to blame.

“Here’s a guy who feels he has put himself out there on behalf of the judiciary, keeping the judiciary sacrosanct, making sure these hearings are about qualifications and not about anything more, and he’s been excoriated in South Carolina for (voting for Sonia) Sotomayor and (Elena) Kagan,” said King of the two Supreme Court justices appointed by President Barack Obama.

Yet Graham looked around and saw Democrats determined to defeat Kavanaugh before he had even been nominated, King explained.

“You take a week of the protests and the shenanigans and to somehow be able to step back and pretend like all of that didn’t happen ... I don’t think anyone can do that without having some sort of bias or some sort of political influence.”

Graham agreed he felt wounded by the politicization of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, blaming Democrats for turning the proceedings into a “circus.”

“I didn’t do this with Sotomayor and Kagan,” he said. “But it is where it is. And if I (become) chairman, I will remember this.”