Why you should care
Because impeachment is only the start of the show.
Sen. Lindsey Graham is one of the most colorful and compelling characters Congress has produced in the past few decades. The onetime Air Force JAG Corps lawyer, longtime bachelor and foreign policy hawk is known for searching for bipartisan deals — most notably on immigration, earning him the nickname ‘Lindsey Grahmnesty’ on the right. He served as one of the U.S. House managers for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, ran for president himself in 2016 and now has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal wingmen in the Senate.
But get ready for ringleader Graham, the one who will lead the circus after the circus, once the Senate’s impeachment trial wraps up.
The South Carolinian laid the groundwork Thursday when he sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting documents about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s 2016 communications with Ukraine then-President Petro Poroshenko. Graham wants information on the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, as well as that country’s investigation into the natural gas company Burisma. Biden’s son Hunter, you’ll recall, served on the board of Burisma, the impetus for so much of what we’ve been talking about for the last several months.
Graham had said before he would not investigate the Bidens, telling The Washington Post just last month that he would not “turn the Senate into a circus.”
Cue the lion tamers.
Times have changed after two weeks of sober, revelatory impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence Committee confirming that U.S. government officials pressured Ukraine to open investigations into Biden and the 2016 election, in exchange for military funding for its war against Russia and a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky. The scheme was, as former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill memorably put it, a “domestic political errand.” Trump’s defenders will say that no one — not even Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — has yet put the “quid pro quo” directly in Trump’s mouth. Still, we all have the call transcript where Trump asked Ukraine’s president for the investigations, and the people with closest direct contact with the president (Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo) are refusing to testify.
It also seems these two weeks of hearings have solidified the partisan lines, with no Republicans or Democrats in the House showing signs of breaking ranks on an impeachment vote. The Senate trial is likely to go the same way, with the possibility that some Democrats (West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Alabama’s Doug Jones come to mind) would vote not to remove. Count on Trump to trumpet this “exoneration” far and wide.
And then comes part two, courtesy of Graham. Expect him, either as counterprogramming to the impeachment trial or a sequel, to tee up a series of hearings on the Bidens. House Republicans have already tried to call Hunter Biden to the stand, to no avail, but Graham has subpoena power as Judiciary Committee chairman. A Graham spokeswoman told the Post the letter Thursday came because House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff — the grim narrator of Democrats’ impeachment — would not explore Burisma and the Bidens in those hearings.
So Graham is doing what the Ukrainians did not: Investigating the Bidens. At least it’s above board. It doesn’t appear anyone is withholding military construction funds from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, until Graham launches hearings. (Any whistleblowers saying otherwise? Now’s the time.)
Republicans’ most common Trump defense these days is that the alleged harm surrounding the impeachment case never happened: Zelensky bailed on a promised CNN interview, where he was to announce the investigations, because Trump released the aid. (Trump did so after the whistleblower complaint started circulating, threatening to toss all this out into the open.) Now comes Investigator Graham.
Given what we know so far, there isn’t a real case against Joe Biden. It was commonly agreed among U.S. and European policymakers that Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was not doing enough at that time to investigate corruption in Ukraine, including by Burisma. Hunter Biden’s service on the company board was unseemly on its face, but it looks like Joe Biden actually acted against the company’s interests here.
That said, let’s have the facts lead us where they may. A legitimate airing of the facts is important as Biden is running for the presidency. Graham is certainly leaving no stone unturned: One of the pieces of evidence the senator cites in his letter to Pompeo is the timing of when Hunter Biden followed then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Twitter. The follow somehow indicates, in Graham’s eyes, that the two were talking about Burisma. Surely, Zelensky could have done better than that.