Politics & Government

Graham, Lieberman go to Georgia on McCain's behalf

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman flew to Georgia on Tuesday as emissaries of Sen. John McCain to "stand in solidarity" with its leaders against Russian military aggression.

Graham, a Seneca Republican, and Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, have both been cited as possible Cabinet advisers to McCain should the presumptive GOP presidential nominee win election to the White House in November.

"It is in our own national security interests to stop Russia from continuing its aggressive actions against Georgia or threatening other countries in the region," Graham said before leaving Washington.

Graham and Lieberman, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have campaigned extensively with McCain. They often appear as his surrogates on the Sunday talk shows and at other public forums.

The two senators also planned to visit Ukraine, which has sparred with Russia over energy supplies, and Poland.

"We are going to Tbilisi, Warsaw and Kiev to meet with the leaders of these important American allies and to discuss the Russian invasion of Georgia," Lieberman said. "This is a moment in history when it is vital for the world's democracies to stand in solidarity."

Lieberman was Al Gore's running mate in 2004 but later broke with the Democratic Party over its support for a 2006 primary challenger to Lieberman. He still caucuses with Senate Democrats.

Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili over the weekend.

Biden is reported to be on Sen. Barack Obama's short list as a running mate for the presumptive Democratic White House nominee.

McCain, whose chief foreign policy adviser has lobbied for the Georgian government, has been among the strongest critics of Russia's Aug. 7 invasion of Georgia and its failure to withdraw from the former Soviet republic.

"Russian President (Dmitry) Medvedev and Prime Minister (Vladimir) Putin must understand the severe long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the United States and Europe," McCain said last week.

McCain accused Obama of appeasing Russia when Obama rejected the Arizona senator's call to expel Russia from the G-8 group of advanced industrialized nations.

McCain's suggestion Thursday that he was dispatching Graham and Lieberman to Georgia drew ridicule from some analysts who said he was acting like president before gaining the office.

"As soon as possible, my colleagues, Senator Lieberman and Senator Graham, will be traveling to Georgia," McCain said.

MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow said, "As the crisis in the Black Sea (region) continues, McCain plays 'pretend Cabinet' and dispatches Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham to Georgia, on the heels of a real diplomatic visit by the actual American secretary of state," Condoleezza Rice.

In an editorial Sunday, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- based in the state where Obama spent much of his childhood -- criticized McCain for "play-acting as president" when he "brazenly announced" that Graham and Lieberman would go to Georgia.

Richard Allen, who served as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, defended McCain's decision to send the two senators to Georgia.

"Even an experienced candidate such as Mr. McCain will make good use of the on-the-spot observations and recommendations of two trusted Senate colleagues," Allen wrote in a comment published Monday in the Washington Post.

Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, said Graham and Lieberman traveled to Georgia as members of an official congressional delegation that was open to other senators.

"John McCain recognizes the seriousness of this issue," Bounds said. "Senators Graham and Lieberman are close and trusted allies with an incredible depth of understanding" of the Russia-Georgia conflict and related matters.

Kevin Bishop, a Graham spokesman, said he "would imagine" McCain and Graham discussed the trip before Graham's departure.

"It's important that members of the United States Congress show support and solidarity for these young democracies, particularly in light of the recent aggression against Georgia," Graham said.