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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 GrahamProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema GOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Lindsey Graham: Dismissal of Wuhan lab leak theory cost Trump 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.) to dig into Obama-era scandals.

Graham, a close ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short 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 ClintonBiden prepares to confront Putin Ending the same-sex marriage wars Trump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' MORE’s private email server and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications targeting former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Ex-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Trump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says 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 WhitehouseMcConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats On The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal 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 KavanaughSupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Gorsuch, Thomas join liberal justices in siding with criminal defendant Alyssa Milano says she could 'potentially run' for House in 2024 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden prepares to confront Putin Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Del.), Cory BookerCory BookerTeen who filmed Floyd murder awarded honorary Pulitzer Senate confirms first Muslim American federal judge Police reform negotiations enter crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (R-N.C.) that would protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE from being fired without “good cause.” The White House and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats 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 FeinsteinProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema 'If this thing qualifies, I'm toast': An oral history of the Gray Davis recall in California The big myths about recall elections 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 SessionsMedia leaders to meet with Garland to discuss leak investigations Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of White House lawyer: report Pelosi: Trump DOJ seizure of House Democrats' data ' goes even beyond Richard Nixon' 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 ComeyMystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyHouse unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants Iowa governor questions lack of notice on migrant children flights to Des Moines Senate crafts Pelosi alternative on drug prices MORE (R-Iowa), with both demanding to hear from Comey and meet with Mueller.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynRising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal 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.”