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 GrahamCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Warren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit MORE (R-S.C.) to dig into Obama-era scandals.

Graham, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration 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 ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment 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 DurbinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business Five dead in shooting at manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois 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 WhitehouseDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech 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 KavanaughFive things to watch as Barr takes the reins of Justice, Mueller probe Virginia can be better than this Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency 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 CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE (D-Del.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Jussie Smollett case shows media villainizing Trump and his supporters, without proof — again MORE (D-N.J.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration GOP senator dedicates heart photo to wife from Senate floor for Valentine's Day MORE (R-N.C.) that would protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE from being fired without “good cause.” The White House and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions 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 FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line 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 SessionsRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports McCabe: Trump's 'relentless attack' on FBI prompted memoir Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' 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 ComeyWarren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit McCabe: Trump 'may have' committed a crime in blocking Russia probe Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' 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 GrassleySmaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown MORE (R-Iowa), with both demanding to hear from Comey and meet with Mueller.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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.”