Powerful former Lindsey Graham donor backs his Democratic opponent, questions Graham’s ‘character’

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s vociferous attacks on Donald Trump in the months and weeks and days leading up to Trump’s November 2016 victory were well covered. Sen. Graham’s subsequent change of heart concerning Trump has also been a depressing reminder that integrity in Washington, D.C. is easily bought. But one big-time donor—and former member of Graham’s presidential campaign finance team—is fed up with spineless Republican operatives.

Richard Wilkerson, former chairman and president of Michelin’s Greenville, South Carolina-based North America operations, is fed up with Sen. Graham. A couple of weeks ago, Wilkerson told local news outlets that he was going to support Graham’s challenger, Jaime Harrison, for South Carolina’s Senate. At the time he said he believed Harrison was the right choice for South Carolina. Wilkerson based this on work the two had done to get stronger environmental regulations implemented in the state. On Monday, however, Wilkerson elaborated on his change of allegiance, penning a scathing op-ed in the Greenville News that really laid bare how low his opinion of Sen. Graham has fallen.

Wilkerson explained that while he does not normally make a habit of discussing his political opinions publicly, the reaction to the news that he was supporting Harrison over Graham made him feel he needed to explain. Citing the various reactions to his support of Harrison—which ranged from positive to classic conservative misdirection attempts at boycotting Michelin tires—he said, “I suppose this person did not know that I retired eight years ago, but seems to want to punish the outstanding working people at the company I love.” Wilkerson writes that his decision was a heartfelt one and something he had been dealing with since Trump took office.

Specifically, Wilkerson began to wonder about Sen. Graham in relation to Donald Trump’s continuous attacks on then Sen. John McCain: “What is the character of a man who will not defend his best friend? If he won’t defend John McCain, why would I expect him to defend any of us in South Carolina?” Wilkerson highlighted Sen. Graham’s retreat into divisive politics, his support of the tax scam for the richest among us, and his most recent attacks on public safety: viciously fighting against a federal extension that would expand unemployment benefits to the growing tens of millions of Americans out of work due to the Republican mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wilkerson writes that he ended his support of Graham a couple of years ago, and wrote to the Senator telling him that “I no longer recognized him as the man I once supported.” 

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Sen. Graham has been facing this music for a couple of years now as time after time, he has failed every test of integrity and character that has come his way during this administration. Sen. Graham’s about face from the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton to the recent impeachment of Donald Trump was a never-ending stream of video clips exhibiting how flimsy Graham’s political “ideals” really are. His opponent, Harrison, has taken advantage of this hypocrisy in his campaign for Graham’s seat.

The political field is filled with all kinds of hypocrites. The pressure and speed with which someone will step all over their principles for power is a frequent topic of discussion on both sides of the political spectrum. In recent years, with the rise of Donald Trump to the top of the Grand Old Party, the degree to which Republicans have publicly compromised their previous positions and opinions has been staggering. While not surprising to those of us paying attention, it has been somewhat shocking to people who may not have realized how desperate for power so many people really are.

Morning Digest: Coronavirus leaves Virginia GOP unsure how to hold House nominating conventions

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

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Leading Off

VA-05, VA-07: Republicans in Virginia’s 5th and 7th Congressional Districts had planned to pick their nominees at April 25 party conventions, rather than in June's primary, but Republicans leaders are still deciding how to proceed in light of the coronavirus.

All of this uncertainty is causing plenty of angst in the 5th District, where freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman faces a challenge from the right from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good. Riggleman even speculated to Roll Call that, if the process gets out of hand, Team Red won’t even have a nominee in this 53-42 Trump seat. National Republicans will also be keeping a close eye on the 7th District, where plenty of candidates are competing for the right to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

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For now, the only things that anyone knows are that the April 25 conventions won’t be happening as planned, but that Republican voters in these two seats still won’t be selecting their candidates through a primary. The 5th District GOP recently posted a memo saying that it's not permissible at this point to switch from nominating candidates at a convention to the state-run primary, which is on June 9.

Ben Slone, who runs the 7th District GOP, told Roll Call’s Stephanie Akin that his group would discuss what to do on Thursday. All he would say about alternatives to the convention, though, was, “We have a set of contingency plans that will be invoked depending on guidance and government health dictates.”

Melvin Adams, who runs the 5th District GOP committee, also told Akin that they would be talking next week about moving the convention date, and he was more forthcoming with his plans. Adams said that he’d hoped to move the event to June 6, which is the weekend before the statewide primary.

However, Riggleman and his supporters say that Adams has been promoting another option if it’s still not safe to hold a convention by then, and it’s not one they like at all. Riggleman said the 5th District Republican Committee, which has fewer than 40 members, could end up picking the party’s nominee, and Adams didn’t deny that this was a possibility. Indeed, this is how Riggleman got chosen as Team Red’s candidate two years ago after Rep. Tom Garrett ended his campaign after winning renomination. That was a very different set of circumstances, though, and an unnamed Riggleman ally on the committee said that, if this ends up happening this year, “I think it would be unfair. It’s a very undemocratic process.”

There’s another huge potential drawback to using this method. Riggleman said that party rules require a candidate to earn the support of at least two-thirds of the district committee, which raises the possibility that no one could end up with the GOP nod. And even if someone claims a supermajority, the congressman argued, it’s possible that the state Republican Party won’t recognize this person as the rightful nominee. Indeed, an unnamed former state party official told Roll Call that the committee only picked the candidate last cycle because their nominee had dropped out, and that “[c]hanging to a process where Republican voters don’t have a voice would be against the party plan and potentially against state law.”

Riggleman himself sounds quite unhappy with this whole state of affairs, saying that he wanted a primary instead of “a convoluted convention process that is collapsing under the weight of this crisis.” Riggleman already had reasons to be wary about party leaders, rather than voters, choosing the nominee here. The congressman infuriated plenty of social conservatives at home in July when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers. This quickly resulted in a homophobic backlash against him, and local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions. It also didn’t escape notice that the convention was supposed to be held at Good’s church.

Riggleman’s path to a second term could be even more perilous if the 5th District Committee ends up choosing the nominee, especially since its chairman sounds very frustrated with him. “I know the congressman and some of his staff and other people have been putting out false information, or at least implying this committee is trying to rig things,” Adams said. “This committee is not trying to rig things.”

Democrats, by contrast, opted to hold a traditional primary in June, and so Team Blue doesn’t have anything like the mess that’s haunting the 5th District GOP. Democrats have several notable contenders running here, and while it will still be tough to flip a seat that Trump won by double digits, GOP infighting could give the eventual nominee more of an opening.

Election Changes

Alaska: Alaska's Republican-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would allow Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to order that the state's Aug. 18 downballot primaries be conducted entirely by mail. (The lieutenant governor is Alaska's chief election official.) However, Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats to require that the state provide dropboxes where voters can return their ballots, an option that is very popular in states that have adopted universal voting by mail, in part because it obviates the need for a postage stamp and avoids the risk of delayed mail return service.

The bill now goes to the state House, which is controlled by a Democratic-led coalition that includes Republicans and independents. The Alaska Daily News says that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is "expected" to sign the measure "speedily" if both chambers pass it.

Indiana: Indiana's bipartisan Election Commission has unanimously waived the state's requirement that voters who wish to vote absentee in June's presidential and downballot primaries provide an excuse in order to do so.

Nebraska: Election officials in Nebraska say there are no plans to delay the state's May 12 presidential and downballot primaries, but at least half a dozen counties—including the three largest—will send absentee ballot applications to all voters, while a number of other small counties had previously moved to all-mail elections prior to the coronavirus outbreak. In all, more than half the state will either receive absentee applications or mail-in ballots, including all voters in the state's 2nd Congressional District, a competitive district that features a multi-way Democratic primary.

Nevada: Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and local election officials from all 17 Nevada counties have announced plans to conduct the state's June 9 downballot primaries almost entirely by mail. Every active registered voter will be sent a postage-paid absentee ballot that they can return by mail or at an in-person polling site, of which each county will have at least one. Importantly, these voters will not have to request an a ballot. At least one in-person polling place will also be available in each county.

Ballots must be postmarked or turned in by Election Day, though they will still count as long as they are received up to seven days later. Officials will also contact any voter whose ballot has an issue (such as a missing signature), and voters will have until the seventh day after the election to correct any problems. Cegavske's press release wisely cautions that, under this system, final election results will not be known until well after election night, though this is a point that officials across the country will have to emphasize loudly and repeatedly as mail voting becomes more widespread.

One potential issue with Cegavske's plan, though, is that registered voters who are listed as "inactive" on the voter rolls will not be sent ballots. However, as voting expert Michael McDonald notes, these voters are still eligible to vote, and every election, many do. While they can still request absentee ballots on their own, they now face an obstacle that active voters will not. Approximately 14% of Nevada's 1.8 million registered voters are on inactive status.

Ohio: Lawmakers in Ohio's Republican-run legislature unanimously passed a bill extending the time to vote by mail in the state's presidential and downballot primaries until April 28, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will sign it "soon." There would be limited in-person voting only for people with disabilities or special needs, and voters would also be able to drop off absentee ballots in person on that day, but ballots would have to be mailed by April 27 and be received by May 8 in order to count. However, voting rights groups have expressed serious reservations about the plan and say they may sue.

Under the bill, the state would send postcards to voters explaining how to request an absentee ballot application. Voters would then have to print out applications on their own, or request one be mailed to them, and then mail them in—they cannot be submitted online. They would then have to mail in their absentee ballots (though these at least would come with a postage-paid envelope).

Voting rights advocate Mike Brickner notes that there is very little time left to carry out this multi-step process, particularly because each piece of mail would be in transit for several days. In addition, printing all of these materials, including the postcards that are designed to kick off this effort, will take considerable time, especially since government offices, the postal service, and print shops "may not be operating optimally," as Brickner observes.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania's Republican-run legislature has unanimously passed a bill to move the state's presidential and downballot primaries from April 28 to June 2. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will sign the measure.

Wisconsin: The city of Green Bay has filed a lawsuit asking that a federal judge order Wisconsin officials to delay the state's April 7 elections until June 2 and to extend its voter registration deadline to May 1. (The deadline for registering by mail has already passed, but voters can still register online through March 30 thanks to an earlier order by a different judge.) Green Bay has also asked that it be allowed to cancel in-person voting and mail ballots to all registered voters.

Senate

MI-Sen: The GOP firm Marketing Resource Group is out with a new survey giving Democratic Sen. Gary Peters a 42-35 lead over Republican John James, which is an improvement from the incumbent's 43-40 edge in October. The only other poll we've seen this month was an early March survey from the GOP firms 0ptimus and Firehouse Strategies that gave James a 41-40 advantage.

ME-Sen: The Democratic group Majority Forward has announced that it's launched a new six-figure ad campaign supporting state House Speaker Sara Gideon. The spot praises Gideon's work securing millions for coronavirus testing, as well as workers and small businesses.

SC-Sen: Democrat Jaime Harrison is out with a poll from Brilliant Corners that shows GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham leading him by a small 47-43 margin. The only other survey we've seen in the last few weeks was a late February Marist poll that showed Graham up 54-37.

Gubernatorial

WV-Gov: The GOP firm Medium Buying reports that GOP Gov. Jim Justice launched his first ad of 2020 last week, and we now have a copy of his commercial. The ad begins with a clip of Donald Trump at a rally saying, "My good friend, and your governor, Jim Justice," before the narrator jumps in and praises the incumbent as a conservative Trump ally.

Former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, by contrast, has been running commercials since June of last year, and he's out with another one ahead of the May GOP primary. Thrasher tells the audience that the coronavirus is creating hardships for West Virginia, and that the state "needs to be proactive in terms of its reaction to this crisis, not reactive the way we have been so many other times." Thrasher then lays out his plan for helping the state economically during the pandemic.

Thrasher doesn't mention, much less directly criticize, Justice's handling of the situation, but he still argues that the state isn't doing enough. "Our president is being very proactive in terms of dealing with those issues," Thrasher says, "We need to follow suit and be proactive as well." He concludes, "It's time for the state of West Virginia to get something done."

House

IN-05: In an unusual move, retiring Rep. Susan Brooks' office publicly told businesswoman Beth Henderson to stop saying that Brooks had recruited her or even given her any special encouragement to run at all. "Susan talked with all Republican candidates who called her and expressed an interest in running in the 5th District to share her insights about representing this district," a Brooks aide said. "Some candidates did not call her." Brooks has not taken sides in the crowded June GOP primary to succeed her.

However, Henderson made it sound like the congresswoman was pulling for her back in February when she declared, "Susan Brooks encouraged me to run." The candidate put out a statement this week insisting that she and Brooks "have had a couple conversations regarding the Fifth district. She has been encouraging throughout my campaign, as I imagine she has been with other candidates as well."

The Indianapolis Star also obtained a voicemail from an unidentified person raising money for the Henderson campaign who said, "Susan actually recruited Beth to run for her, and we are working hard to raise funds to ensure that that happened." Henderson's team acknowledged that this person was affiliated with the campaign but insisted that none of that was included in the script that caller was given.

MI-13: Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones announced Wednesday that she would seek a primary rematch against Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is one of the most high-profile members of the House freshman class. Jones, who briefly held this seat for a few weeks in the lame-duck session of the last Congress (more on that later), kicked off her campaign with a video declaring that she was “running for re-election” to this safely blue seat.

While Jones didn’t mention Tlaib in that message, she argued in a new interview with the Detroit News that her opponent has “spent a lot of her energy in places other than the 13th District.” Jones said that, unlike the congresswoman, “I will be totally focused on the 13th District, being the third-poorest district in the United States.”

Jones and Tlaib have a lot of history. Thanks to some very unusual circumstances, they even faced off three separate times in 2018. That August, Michigan held two different Democratic primaries on the same day for this seat: one for a special election for the final months of former Rep. John Conyers' term, and one for the regular two-year term. Jones had the support of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and some unions, but she had trouble raising money. Tlaib, by contrast, didn’t have as many prominent local endorsements, but she decisively outraised each of her many opponents.

Tlaib narrowly beat Jones 31-30 in the six-way primary for the full term. However, there were only four candidates on the ballot in the special election primary, and in that race, it was Jones who edged Tlaib 38-36.

The two candidates who were only on the ballot for the regular term, state Sen. Coleman Young II and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson, took a combined 18% of the vote, so their absence in the special primary likely had an impact. Jones, Young, and Jackson, along with more than half the district's residents, are black, while Tlaib is of Palestinian descent (only 4% of residents identify as Arab American). It's therefore probable that the presence of two additional African American candidates in the regular primary but not in the special primary made the difference between the two close outcomes.

Jones, however, didn't relish the idea of serving just a few weeks in the House and wound up launching a last-minute write-in campaign against Tlaib for the general election. It was a misguided move, though, as she took just 0.32% of the vote. Jones and then-Speaker Paul Ryan ended up working out an apparently unprecedented agreement that allowed Jones to serve a few weeks in the House without resigning as head of the Detroit City Council, letting her take a hiatus from that post until Tlaib was sworn in in January of 2019.

Tlaib immediately earned national attention on her first day in office when she said of Donald Trump, "[W]e're going to impeach the motherfucker," and she’s been in the headlines plenty since then. Most notably, Trump targeted Tlaib and the three other women of color who make up “The Squad” with a racist tweet in July. Thanks to her celebrity, Tlaib has done well in raising money from progressives across the country, ending last year with a hefty $1.2 million on-hand.

Tlaib, who has been a prominent Bernie Sanders surrogate, has her share of intra-party critics and recently inflamed some of them when she booed Hillary Clinton at a Sanders campaign event in January in Iowa. Jones, however, has her own issues, particularly as a longtime supporter of Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic head of the Nation of Islam, even sharing the stage with him at a 2017 event in Detroit.

If Jones has any reservations about Farrakhan—whose lowlight reel includes gems like, “The Jewish media has normalized sexual degeneracy, profanity, and all kinds of sin,” and, “In Washington right next to the Holocaust Museum is the Federal Reserve where they print the money. Is that an accident?"—she hasn't put them on display. Rather, just last month, her chief of staff said that Jones was sponsoring a resolution commending Farrakhan’s newspaper, which ran a piece Farrakhan wrote in 2016 saying that the Sept. 11 attacks were “a false flag operation,” for its “truthful articles.” For his part, Farrakhan himself singled Jones out for praise in a speech in Detroit two years ago.

TN-01: State Rep. Timothy Hill announced on Tuesday that he was joining the August GOP primary for this safely red open seat. Hill has served in the state legislature for four terms, and he's risen to become chair of the Commerce Committee.

Senate Intelligence chair warns fellow Republicans that Biden probe is playing into Russia’s hands

Top Senate Republicans are moving ahead with an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, despite being warned by the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that they may be playing directly into Russia’s hands.

Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees, are targeting Biden as a continuation of Donald Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 elections. On December 5, Politico reports, Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr told them that such an investigation could boost Russia’s efforts to destabilize the U.S. political system.

No less a Trump sycophant than Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoes Burr’s concerns. “Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat, need to be looked at by the intelligence services, who has expertise I don't because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle,” Graham said in early February. His committee is not joining the investigation into Biden.

Grassley, who refused to back impeachment trial witnesses, isn’t ruling out issuing subpoenas in this baseless and politically motivated investigation—an investigation Republicans didn’t launch when or anytime soon after Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma because they weren’t interested in damaging Joe Biden’s electoral prospects at that point. 

”We wait until we get all the information,” Grassley said. “I don’t want to threaten subpoenas until I know that they’re going to be used.” Presumably “all the information” includes whether Joe Biden looks like he could still become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Senate Republicans are not bothered one bit as Trump’s abuses of power escalate

Donald Trump is going to war with the very idea of equal administration of justice in the United States of America, and the Senate Republicans who voted last week to acquit him of abuse of power are just nodding along, barely even pausing to furrow a brow. Trump has intervened in the sentencing of his old buddy Roger Stone and publicly thanked Attorney General William Barr for doing his bidding. He’s attacked the judge and a juror in the case. These are not trifling matters in a democracy, but Republicans just don’t care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed it with a simple, “I do not have an opinion on that.” To Sen. John Cornyn, it’s “kind of immaterial” if Trump intervened to reduce a sentencing recommendation for a friend. “It doesn’t bother me at all, as long as the judge has the final decision,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley—of the judge Trump has been working to publicly intimidate. In translation: Trump’s escalating assaults on the rule of law change nothing for Republicans.

The list of Republican senators who just don’t give a damn goes on and on. Sen. Lindsey Graham is “comfortable the system is working,” even though he gave lip service to the principle that Trump shouldn’t be speaking out about specific cases in the courts. Sen. Lamar Alexander said that “politics should never play a part in law enforcement,” without mentioning Trump by name.

Another series of Republicans pretended not to know what the issue was, falling back on the old Paul Ryan favorite, “I don’t know the facts of the case; I haven’t been following it” (this time, that one came from Sen. Ted Cruz). 

The other thing that goes on and on is Trump’s abuse of power. The Washington Post reports that, according to a former senior administration official, when aides try to persuade Trump that he should stay out of legal cases, he says, “I have a right to say whatever I want.” According to that official, “He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows that he has more power than anyone else in the government—and when he tweets, everyone has to listen to him.”

A Republican congressional aide told the Post, “It’s like bad weather. Nothing more, nothing less.” Yes, abuse of power and the destruction of democratic norms and institutions is just a little bad weather.

“We cannot give him a permanent license to turn the presidency and the executive branch into his own personal vengeance operation,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday, addressing his Republican colleagues in a committee meeting. “If we say nothing—and I include everyone in this committee, including myself—it will get worse. His behavior will get worse.” 

Republicans are on board with that, is the problem.

Every day that goes by and every new abuse that Trump commits shows why it's so important to retake the Senate. Please dig deep to defeat vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden tries to expand Ukraine investigation into an actual Ukraine investigation

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson was one of a number of Republicans who signed a letter encouraging the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. Naturally, that fact has not even been a speed bump in Johnson joining with his colleagues Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of a nefarious act when he … encouraged the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.

Back in November, in the midst of the House impeachment hearings into Donald Trump’s extortion and slander plot, the trio of Johnson , Grassley, and Graham began a distraction campaign by demanding documents both from and about Ukraine. This has continued post-impeachment, with the three lickspittles rummaging through Secret Service records to see if they can catch Joe Biden in the act of associating with his own son. 

And now Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has decided to join them—to dig up documents that Republicans would rather stay buried.

As The Washington Post reported last week, Republican senators were eager to demonstrate that their toadying for Trump didn’t end with their cover-up vote on his removal from office. Johnson, Grassley, and Graham are all well aware that in asking for the dismissal of Shokin, Biden was actually:

Following the instructions of Barack Obama and others at the White House who had repeatedly noted the Ukrainian prosecutor’s obstruction and corruption. Supporting a request from officials of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund who saw Shokin’s corruption as a fundamental roadblock to investment in Ukraine. Acting on the request of U.K. prosecutors upset that Shokin would not pursue an investigation into Burisma and other companies at the heart of a possible money laundering scheme.

But just because they know upfront that not only did Biden not take steps to illegally protect his son’s position, but that in helping to sack Shokin, he was also actually putting his son at risk, they are still more than willing to demonstrate that their loyalty to Trump is more important than facts. Or honesty. Or much less any concept of honor.

With that in mind, Buzzfeed News reports that Sen. Wyden has decided it would be a good thing to just open up this investigation and request a few more documents that don’t involve Hunter Biden’s airline records or what Joe Biden ate for lunch. Instead, Wyden sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directing him to turn over everything that the State Department has on Ukraine policy, both under President Obama and under Trump. That includes records of the department’s interactions on Ukraine with individuals such as Rudy Giuliani and his friends Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Wyman’s letter makes it clear that he understands the purpose behind the much more limited requests made by Johnson, Grassley, and Graham. By restricting their search to a handful of Biden-related documents, the Republicans can continue to string together apparent connections by looking at overlapping dates or locations—connections that may, once again, show Joe Biden talking to, or even meeting with, his only surviving son. Which, as far as Republicans are concerned, is somehow much worse than bludgeoning an allied nation into providing political slander through an existential threat.

Or, as Wyden writes in his letter, “I am concerned that, in the absence of additional information … the Department's production of information requested by the Senate Committees could create an incomplete and biased record of the State Department's activities related to Ukraine.”

It can. And it still will. Because there’s almost no doubt that Pompeo, along with Attorney General William Barr, will find that the requests from the Republican senators are urgent and proper, completely worthy of their time, and deserving of a response. Wyden, on the other hand, probably forgot a comma in the fourth line, or didn’t use the right form, or … is a Democrat. If Pompeo needs another reason to ignore a document demand from the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, he can always ask the White House counsel. As these people demonstrated during Trump’s impeachment trial, they’re full of excuses. Or at least full of something.

Fascism: Graham says Barr has ‘process’ for Biden probe, Russian investigators ‘going to jail’

Top sycophant Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the Sunday shows, of course, to bask in the Senate's nullification of Donald Trump's impeachment for using the tools of his power to extort the Ukrainian government into providing him "dirt" on a Democratic election opponent. It is not just Trump that appears to feel unleashed; Graham, too, was eager to describe the next steps of the administration-led descent into American fascism.

A first step: The Trump "private lawyer" Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign against the Bidens is now moving into Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department. Whatever Barr’s prior pretenses may have been, Barr is now explicitly establishing the means by which Rudy’s propaganda can be filtered into official “investigations” of Trump’s targeted enemies.

Throughout the House and press investigations into the Ukraine scandal, Trump Attorney General Barr either refused comment or denied that he was involved with the Giuliani efforts, despite Trump specifically naming both Barr and Giuliani as contacts for the Ukrainian president in the "transcript" of Trump's now-infamous phone call. Whether this was a lie or not—and it is almost certainly a direct lie by a complicit Barr—such pretenses have now vanished.

On CBS's Face the Nation, Graham said that the Department of Justice is now "receiving information coming out of the Ukraine, from Rudy." Barr's Justice Department, says Graham, has "created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified."

This means that the president's self-identified "personal lawyer", acting on behalf of known-corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs and ex-officials and in concert with two now-indicted launderers of Russian cash, is now directly channeling conspiracy claims against Trump's election opponent to the U.S. Attorney General's office. There is no longer any pretense of Giuliani's efforts not being state policy.

And this, in turn, means the claims of Russian organized crime-tied Dmytro Firtash, seeking to exchange "dirt" on Biden in exchange for the U.S. Department of Justice dropping his indictments in this country, are now being funneled through Giuliani directly into a Barr-led Justice Department that seems more then agreeable to making such a trade.

That was not the only assertion from Graham that Republicans and the Trump administration would be adopting new fascist policies of targeting and retaliating against Dear Leader's critics and enemies. Just after Trump removed multiple U.S. government officials (and a family member) who testified to the House impeachment committee despite Trump and Barr's standing orders to refuse House subpoenas, Graham indicated that many of those who investigated Trump will be heading to prison.

"We're not going to live in a world where as a Republican you get investigated from the day you're sworn in, three years later they're still coming after you," said Graham, erasing both Whitewater and the Benghazi "investigations" from the nation's history.

"Here's what amazes me. The Russian investigation, what happened? Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail," the Republican told his Fox News host. "And Trump was cleared."

"When? Hopefully," host Maria Bartiromo mugged.

"Well, just hang tight," Graham responded.

We are now well into fascism, and it is the Republican Senate that is not merely looking the other way, but aggressively assisting Trump's team in its implementation. Those that testified against Trump are being removed, despite laws seemingly barring such retaliation. The propaganda efforts against Trump's targeted political foe spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani (financed, it should be noted, from Russia, as previous Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was financed for his own role in manipulating Ukraine towards Russian interests while creating schisms between that country and the west) are now being pipelined directly into Barr's Department of Justice.

Barr, whose department attempted to stifle the Ukrainian whistleblower complaint and worked to sabotage all investigation of Trump, has issued orders that he must be informed of and approve of any new investigations that touch on a 2020 campaign or candidate—both giving him direct access to any information potentially damaging to Trump's foes while maintaining absolute power to block probes of Trump himself.

It is in this environment that Lindsay Graham, who has been one of the prime advocates of Trump's new, law-bending authoritarian powers, has confidence that Trump's prior investigators will be jailed. "Just hang tight," he tells his propagandizing state media host.

It is not likely that John Bolton's book will see the light of day, not with the White House insisting it contains "classified" information that will take an unspecified amount of time to review. It is not likely that the Republican Senate will take any action, even the most minor, to restrain the Trump team in retaliating against witnesses or to block Barr from turning the nation's Justice Department into a tool for smearing, and possibly jailing, Trump's adversaries.

Travel restrictions imposed against the non-compliant. The stifling of official information contrary to Trump's scattershot, often-delusional proclamations. Invented state propaganda. The celebration of pro-state conspiracy and white nationalism promoters. Escalating threats of far-right domestic terrorism.

The only path out, now that Republicans have morphed from a conservative movement to a fascist one, is election turnout so overwhelming as to swamp even these new, myriad election-rigging efforts. And even that may not be enough.

Here's Lindsey Graham telling CBS that Attorney General Barr has "created a process" where Rudy Giuliani can feed Biden dirt from Ukrainian sources directly to the DOJ, and the DOJ will then check it out pic.twitter.com/A6N8YV6tS9

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 9, 2020

Lindsey Graham: Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail pic.twitter.com/Xi9LQV6J9M

— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 9, 2020

14 Republicans who voted to impeach, convict, and remove Clinton will vote to acquit Trump today

This afternoon, Senate Republicans will vote almost certainly with unanimity to acquit Donald Trump of the charges included in two impeachment articles brought against him—abuse of power and obstruction of justice. If that acquittal wasn’t already completely obvious, all doubt was removed last night by the enthusiastic fawning over the lawless Donald J. Trump’s spew of fabrications, exaggerations, and braggadocio in a speech of vindication and denial applauded by men and women who really, clearly don’t care about the gaping wound their decision will leave in constitutional norms. Not yet fatal to democracy, but this gives Trump the freedom to do something that could be.

Fourteen of those Republican senators who will vote today also voted on the impeachment of Bill Clinton 21 years ago. Eight of them, then members of the House, voted in favor of two articles of impeachment—perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath. Six others, who were already in the Senate then and still are, voted to convict Clinton. As you might guess, they had very different things to say about impeachment and what was impeachable at the time than they have said lately.

Below are some of their remarks during Clinton’s impeachment.

First, a look at the eight current Republican senators who were members of the House in 1998-99. All eight voted in favor of the articles of impeachment against Clinton.

Roy Blunt (Missouri)

"No president can be allowed to subvert the judiciary or thwart the investigative responsibility of the legislature," Blunt said, adding that Clinton had committed "serious felonious acts that strike at the heart of our judicial system. [...] Violating these oaths or causing others to impede the investigation into such acts are serious matters that meet the standard for impeachment."

Mike Crapo (Idaho)

"Our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth. That is why perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes," Crapo said. "Perjury and obstruction of justice are public crimes that strike at the heart of the rule of law — and therefore our freedom — in America."

Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)

He was one of the House impeachment managers in Clinton’s trial. "He doesn't have to say, 'Go lie for me,' to be a crime. He doesn't have to say, 'Let's obstruct justice,' for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not a magic phrase," Graham said. “[Impeachment is] not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

Jerry Moran (Kansas)

"I choose to be on the side that says no person is above the law; that this is a nation of laws, not men; that telling the truth matters; and that we should expect our public officials to conduct themselves in compliance with the highest ethical standards," Moran said.

Rob Portman (Ohio)

Portman said, “For myself, I believe the evidence of serious wrongdoing is simply too compelling to be swept aside. I am particularly troubled by the clear evidence of lying under oath in that it must be the bedrock of our judicial system.” He followed up with a press statement after he had voted, saying: “Committing perjury, obstructing justice and abusing the power of the presidency violate the rule of law that all citizens—even the president—must obey.”

John Thune (South Dakota)

Thune said, "There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. President Clinton has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes."

Richard Burr (North Carolina)

Burr said, "The United States is a nation of laws, not men. And I do not believe we can ignore the facts or disregard the constitution so that the president can be placed above the law."

Roger Wicker (Mississippi)

Wicker said that if Clinton urged Monica Lewinsky to lie, it "would amount to a federal felony, and that would mean serious, serious problems for President Clinton."

And here are the six Republicans who were in the Senate in 1998-99 and voted to convict Clinton:

Chuck Grassley (Iowa)

Grassley said that Clinton's “misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grass roots. His breach of trust has eroded the public's faith in the office of the presidency." The "true tragedy" of the case, he said, was "the collapse of the president's moral authority." He co-signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings pointing out that federal law "criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding."

Mike Enzi (Wyoming)

Bill Clinton "was intending to influence the testimony of a likely witness in a federal civil rights proceeding," Enzi said. "President Clinton was, in fact, trying to get Betty Currie to join him in his web of deception and obstruction of justice."

Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma)

Along with five other Republican senators, including Jeff Sessions and Pat Roberts, Inhofe signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings nothing that federal law "criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding."

Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)

McConnell said in a statement, "Do we want to retain President Clinton in office, or do we want to retain our honor, our principle, and our moral authority? For me, and for many members in my impeachment-fatigued party, I choose honor." He added, "The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath."

Pat Roberts (Kansas)

In a statement, Roberts said that Clinton had sought to block the investigation into his actions. "Do these actions rise to the level envisioned by our founding fathers in the Constitution as 'high crimes and misdemeanors' so warranting removal from office? Our Constitution requires that the threshold for that judgment must be set by each senator sitting as a juror. Again, I believe an open-minded individual applying Kansas common sense would reach the conclusion that I reached."

Richard Shelby (Alabama)

The senator said after voting, “After reviewing the evidence, I believe that the House managers proved beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton obstructed justice. Therefore, I voted for his conviction and removal for the offenses charged in Article II. However, I do not believe that the House managers met the legal requirements of proving perjury beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, I voted against conviction and removal for the offenses charged in Article I.”

For your reading displeasure, let me also include the words of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, since he could return to the Senate next year:

It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a federal grand jury and has persisted in a continuous pattern of lying and obstructing justice. The chief law enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. ...

“It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth. I fear that an acquittal of this president will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court. Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation's respect for law, justice and truth, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result.

Fascism rises: Graham says Senate GOP will do whatever it can to expose the whistleblower

If you missed it, yesterday strident Donald Trump toady Sen. Lindsey Graham explained to Fox "Business" host Maria Bartiromo what he believes the Republican Senate will do next, after voting to immunize Trump from a clearly criminal extortion scheme meant to gain foreign help in winning his reelection. Graham said the Senate will move on from declaring that no administration witnesses must be called in an impeachment trial to calling a litany of Obama-era administration officials to interrogate them about Trump's targets in that scheme, Joe and Hunter Biden.

Graham also vowed to do something far more serious: Summon the "whistleblower" who first told Congress of Trump's criminal conspiracy. This is so that Graham and Trump's other Republican allies can interrogate Dear Leader’s nameless critic and, possibly, expose, threaten, and target that person to the full force of the Republican’s treason-approving, violence-threatening, mail-bombing base.

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Graham told his host, Angry Fascist Banana, that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr told him the committee will be calling the whistleblower to testify. Graham said that he intended to expose "how all this crap started" and launched into a stream of absolutely false, propaganda-based conspiracy theories about who the whistleblower was "working with" that we will not repeat here. He did not, however, indicate whether Burr still intended to keep the whistleblower's identity secret or whether he had been pressured into changing his mind on that.

Graham, obviously, believes that he will find some conspiracy that will require, or at least justify, doing Trump's personal bidding by exposing the only White House-linked official in the entire administration who put their duty to their country above their fealty to a raving, corrupt man damaging national security and our elections for his own personal gain.

There can be little argument that the Republican Party is now a fascist organization. It has put Dear Leader above the rule of law. It has given Dear Leader an "absolute immunity" to solicit as much foreign government assistance as he can muster or extort for the purposes of throwing the next election in his favor, while insisting that it will still be a “free election” regardless of how much false, conspiracy-premised propaganda Dear Leader can bring to bear. Now it insists that Dear Leader's law-protecting supposed enemies be exposed, and made examples of.

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Senate Republicans have no regrets over impeachment cover-up, even as White House hides key emails

News that the Trump White House is blocking the release of dozens of emails described in a court filing as “regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine” didn’t change the message from Senate Republicans on Sunday’s talk shows: They regret nothing and will continue to cover up for Donald Trump. Why, it’s almost like nothing Trump could have done would have lost him the support of members of his own party determined to protect their own political power.

Sen. Lindsey Graham even proposed a major program of revenge against Democrats—one that would continue Trump’s efforts to damage former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 election prospects.

Graham used his time on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures to call on Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jim Risch to launch a major investigation of Biden, also targeting the whistleblower who launched the House’s Trump-Ukraine probe. “Jim, if you’re watching the show, I hope you are ... let’s call these people in. Eventually, we’ll get to Hunter Biden,” Graham said.  

“We’re not going to let it go. Jim Risch, you need to start it,” he pledged.

Sen. Lamar Alexander didn’t sketch out a revenge plan for Democrats daring to conduct oversight of Trump, but he stuck to his story that, sure, Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine into interfering in the U.S. elections were “wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say — improper, crossing the line,” but that doesn’t mean anyone should do anything about it. “I’m very concerned about any action that we could take that would establish a perpetual impeachment in the House of Representatives whenever the House was a different party than the president. That would immobilize the Senate.”

Gee, Lamar, maybe the issue isn’t just the House being held by a different party than the president—after all, as much as the Republican-controlled House from 2011 to 2016 would have looooved to impeach President Barack Obama, he didn’t give them even a shred of an excuse to do so—but all of Trump’s flagrant abuse of power.

Sen. Joni Ernst, facing re-election this November, couldn’t bring herself to condemn Trump’s actions as strongly as Alexander’s weak sauce. “Maybe not the perfect call,” Ernst said. “He did it maybe in the wrong manner.” Because apparently there’s a right manner for using the power of the presidency to get another country to launch sham investigations into a political rival.

It’s not just Trump. The Republican Party is rotten all the way through.

Cartoon: The Grand Ol’ Adaptable Party

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With each new revelation or bit of evidence, Republicans in the Senate (and the House, for that matter), soften their spines a little more. Remember when Lindsey Graham thought withholding an Oval Office meeting wasn’t that big of a deal but withholding military aid, well, that would be just wrong!

It really has come down to the “So What?” defense for Donald Trump and his supporters. Wrapped in a little Alan Dershowitz legalese about the Founders only intending to impeach a president who robbed a bank for his own personal gain, and it’s looking even more likely Senate Republicans won’t budge.

Apparently a president has to say “I am presently going to commit high crimes and misdemeanors” while the offending act is witnessed by a Senate Sergeant at Arms in order to be convicted and removed from office. Enjoy the cartoon, and keep those fingers and toes crossed. (And be sure to visit me over on Patreon for prints, sketches and other behind-the-scenes goodies!)