Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies

New tensions are flaring on the Senate Judiciary Committee over plans by newly minted Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhat would John McCain do? Sunday shows preview: Trump ratchets up trade war with China White House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts MORE (R-S.C.) to dig into Obama-era scandals.

Graham, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE’s, has outlined several areas he wants to probe now that he has the Judiciary Committee gavel.

They include the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Biden struggles to hit it off with millennials MORE’s private email server and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications targeting former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.), asked about Graham’s plans, started laughing and compared them to the “thrilling days of yesteryear.”

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“This is going to be like the History Channel it turns out. Instead of taking a look at the current issues, Lindsey Graham wants to go back and answer important questions about the Bermuda Triangle and Hillary Clinton,” Durbin told The Hill.

Durbin said he was “concerned” about Graham’s plans but quipped that “you know there is that question about Jimmy Carter which he probably wants to ask.”

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-R.I.), another member of the panel, said maybe Graham should “investigate Benghazi some more too” — an apparent reference to a years-long House probe that Democrats considered a political stunt.

Graham’s plans come while tensions on the panel linger from the deeply partisan fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump wishes Ginsburg well after radiation treatment for tumor Ginsburg completes radiation treatment for cancerous tumor Mississippi professor, who went to Georgetown Prep with Brett Kavanaugh, sues HuffPost MORE’s confirmation.

Graham won praise from conservatives during that battle, when he exploded at Democrats during the hearing and accused them of trying to “destroy this guy's life” after sexual assault allegations surfaced against Kavanaugh. 

Graham has seesawed in the Trump era from moderate deal-maker to firebrand ally for the president, who remains popular in South Carolina. Graham is up for reelection in 2020.

He has cut deals with Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including helping to draft legislation with Sens. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Biden faces scrutiny for his age from other Democrats Democrats press FBI for details on Kavanaugh investigation MORE (D-Del.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (D-N.J.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (R-N.C.) that would protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE from being fired without “good cause.” The White House and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast MORE (R-Ky.) oppose that bill.

Graham has also worked closely with Durbin on immigration reform in another break with Trump and has been hustling behind the scenes to try to reach an agreement that would end the weeks-long partial government shutdown.

Coons, a member of the Judiciary Committee, encouraged Graham to thread the needle carefully, adding that “it depends how divisive partisan topics are approached.”

“It is possible for the Judiciary Committee to remain a highly functional committee even while tackling controversial topics,” Coons said. Asked if he was saying Graham should focus on more bipartisan areas first, he added that “I think that would be a more constructive way to start, I’ll simply put it that way.”

Democrats are now pushing for the committee to dig into an explosive BuzzFeed News report that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told Mueller that Trump personally directed him to lie after his election about the timing of when the negotiations involving a Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in an effort to obscure the president’s involvement.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Graham on Friday asking him to call Cohen to testify before the committee.

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“Our committee must conduct a thorough investigation of the President’s involvement in these crimes and whether he obstructed justice to hide them. ... The hour to put country before petty partisan differences has come,” he added.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, added in a statement, without directly mentioning Graham, that Republicans should “join in a bipartisan effort to get the facts to the American people, who deserve to know the full story of what happened during and after the 2016 election.”

Graham has aligned himself closely to Trump on some key areas within the panel’s jurisdiction.

He’s promised he’ll use the Judiciary Committee to clear the president’s conservative judicial picks. And he’s committed the panel to digging into issues at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI that Trump publicly pressured former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsA better way to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons Trump admin erases key environmental enforcement tool DOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda MORE to investigate.

Graham told reporters earlier this month that he would do a “deep dive into the FISA issue” as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And he told Fox News last month that he believed the FBI “phoned in” the Clinton probe and were “in the tank” for the Democratic presidential nominee.

“There’s a certain unevenness here about how you investigate campaigns,” Graham said, adding that he believed there was “100 percent” a double standard between how the bureau handled the investigation into Clinton compared to investigating the Trump campaign.  

Graham also said late last year that he would “totally” investigate the FBI's handling of its investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Clinton’s email. He added separately last month that he would “get to the bottom of” the FISA warrant applications against Page and that he wanted to have “an in-depth discussion” with former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE.

Asked about his investigation plans and the criticism from Democrats, a spokeswoman for Graham pointed to a pair of tweets from the GOP senator on Friday where he doubled down.

Graham described as “stunning” a Fox News report that Justice Department official Bruce Ohr discussed his views on a controversial research opposition dossier on Trump with individuals now on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

“These purported revelations will NOT get a pass in Senate Judiciary Committee,” Graham added.

Graham’s investigations could overlap with work by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is deep into its own probe of the 2016 election. The two panels previously bumped elbows under Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (R-Iowa), with both demanding to hear from Comey and meet with Mueller.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), a member of both panels, acknowledged that there had previously been a “jurisdictional battle” between the two committees, but said that oversight of the Justice Department and FBI was in the Judiciary Committee’s lane.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI and so I think oversight hearings ... could be useful,” he said.

He added that “as long as it’s focused on oversight of those institutions, the FBI and DOJ, it’s clearly in the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction … [But] there’s no question that sometimes there’s tension between those two.”