Lindsey Graham’s next move after Mueller report? Maybe none

Sen. Lindsey Graham has said for months he wanted to read Robert Mueller’s report before determining whether President Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses.

On Sunday, he read a four page summary of Mueller’s findings and determined it was a “great day for President Trump and his team.”

“No collusion and no obstruction,” Graham declared as he wrapped up a weekend in Florida as part of Trump’s inner circle.

According to a brief letter from Attorney General William Barr to senior House and Senate Judiciary Committee members, Mueller’s 22-month investigation did not uncover evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election. But Barr also said said Mueller did not exonerate Trump from allegations that the president sought to obstruct justice to thwart Mueller’s inquiry.

While the Democratic-run House Judiciary Committee was quickly plotting extensive efforts to learn more — notably about possible Trump obstruction of justice — Graham appeared satisfied there was nothing more to examine.

“The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” Graham, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, concluded in a statement. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down ... Now is the time to move on.”

Graham was still in Florida, near Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago, when he released his statement. He’d been there since Friday as the political world awaited news of the Mueller report’s findings.

On Friday night, Graham delivered a rousing partisan battle cry at a Palm Beach GOP fundraising dinner where Trump made an appearance. On Sunday morning, he and Trump played golf at the president’s golf club.

They were joined by two former South Carolina Republican congressmen: Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and Trey Gowdy, who helped write a House Intelligence Committee report in the spring of 2018 that also concluded Trump did not collude with the Russians.

Now, Graham will head back to Washington, D.C., to navigate a partisan firestorm on Capitol Hill.

Congressional Democrats, including those on the Senate Judiciary Committee, want to know what Mueller did uncover as he probed obstruction of justice allegations. They’ll also continue clamoring for the release of the full report, not just Barr’s highlights.

Graham’s counterpart, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, has already said he will call Barr to testify before his panel.

Republicans could also press hard for the administration to share the entire report with Congress and the public. Earlier this month, the House voted unanimously for a resolution expressing a sense that the Mueller findings should be released.

The Senate might have adopted the resolution, too, but Graham blocked its consideration to make a political statement that a special counsel ought to be appointed to investigate 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s alleged misconduct, too.

Graham has said he intends to move forward with committee investigations into whether the Barack Obama-era FBI unlawfully spied on a Trump campaign official, and how Mueller’s team raided the home of former Trump associate Roger Stone.

On a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware said “it’s not clear” if Graham plans to also hold hearings with Barr or with Mueller, but hoped the chairman would.

“I frankly think we should be doing the work of the Judiciary Committee in a balanced and bipartisan way and move forward in a way that addresses the real problems facing this country,” Coons said.

Graham has not committed to holding hearings on Mueller’s findings. How he proceeds could determine the future of his reputation as someone willing to work across party lines. That reputation is already in jeopardy after his fiery response during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year as well as his continued overtures of loyalty to Trump.

How he handles the aftermath of the special counsel’s investigation could also fuel Democratic attempts to leverage anti-Trump sentiment to unseat the veteran incumbent in 2020.

Learning that Graham was golfing with Trump as a briefing on the Mueller report was still being readied, Jaime Harrison — Graham’s likely Democratic challenger — accused the senator of putting the interests of the American people beneath his own desire for influence.

“Lindsey is only for Lindsey,” Harrison tweeted. “He will do (and) say what is necessary to garner influence/power. He doesn’t give a damn about perception.”

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.