Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) plans to force a vote next week on a wide-ranging subpoena as part of his probe into the Russia investigation is reviving long-simmering frustrations on the Judiciary Committee.
Graham has set a vote for June 4 on a subpoena that would let him compel documents and interviews with dozens of officials as he plans to ramp up his months-long probe into “Crossfire Hurricane,” the name for the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.
Included in the subpoena, which is likely to be approved along party lines, are some of President Trump’s biggest political targets. Democrats view it as Graham’s latest breach of the panel’s bipartisan history that underscores his shift from Trump critic to ally.
“I’m sure Sen. Graham has been disappointed in some of the things I’ve said and done, but I am waiting for the return of the Lindsey Graham that I worked with for so many years. In the closing, I hope closing, hours of the Trump administration, he has been such a Trump loyalist that he just doesn’t sound like the senator that I worked with over all those years,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the panel, told The Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, called Graham’s subpoena maneuver an “end run” around the committee rules to give himself “unbridled authority to go after Obama-era officials in order to bolster the president’s conspiracy theories and denigrate the president’s political rival, Joe Biden.”
The subpoena vote comes in what is shaping up to be a blockbuster committee meeting. In addition to the subpoena, senators will also vote on Justin Walker’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court, which is viewed as the second most powerful court in the country behind the Supreme Court.
It is the latest partisan fight that has buffeted the panel in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, where Graham captured headlines, and conservative fervor, when he tore into Democrats for their questioning of Trump’s pick.
Since then the partisan battles have only grown, including a steady stream of controversial judicial picks, William Barr’s attorney general nomination and Graham’s immigration bill last year, when Democrats believed he broke committee rules.
“We had a very difficult, very divisive confirmation hearing on the Foreign Relations Committee,” Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), who is a member of both committees, told The Hill. “On the floor … several of us were talking about how Foreign Relations has long been this kind of island of bipartisanship, and we were talking about just how distressing it is to have it feel more like Judiciary.”
Under committee rules, Graham can issue a subpoena as either part of a deal with Feinstein or with a majority vote from the GOP-controlled committee. A Graham spokesman specified that the vote will be on one broad subpoena that will specifically name dozens of people, instead of giving Graham authority to issue multiple subpoenas without additional votes.
“This is exactly what Sen. Leahy did … investigating torture allegations. It’s exactly the same document he used. It was a partisan vote,” Graham said. “If you got a problem with this template, you need to talk to him.”
Asked if he was worried about setting a precedent, Graham added that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a past chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has “already done it.”
Graham has struck bipartisan deals with Democrats on immigration and legislation to protect then-special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired. Democrats say the subpoena fight will be rough for the committee, but they aren’t closing the door to working with him altogether.
“I will commend him for being my co-sponsor for the DREAM Act. … But there have been precious few opportunities in this stage of the Trump administration for us to do anything constructive in the area of immigration and many other issues as well. I hope that after the election that changes,” Durbin said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) predicted that the subpoena vote was “likely to be a very contentious meeting” but noted that the committee was able to do bipartisan work after the Kavanaugh confirmation battle.
He said differences “have become more vehement and sometimes vitriolic” but that after Kavanaugh’s confirmation he was still able to work with Graham.
Asked about Graham’s subpoena plan, he added: “I think it’s a complete distraction from the work we should be doing to address the health and economic crisis” caused by the coronavirus.
Coons noted that he recently introduced legislation with Graham on wildlife trafficking and wet markets, but he also said hearings on controversial circuit court nominees were “sharply partisan” and that it’s “not a healthy committee.”
“I’ve been able to find a way to legislate with Chairman Graham on other issues, on other committees. [But] I do think this will be very difficult for the Judiciary Committee,” he said.
Republicans have faced growing calls from Trump to dig into the Obama administration, though Graham has denied that his investigation is in response to pressure from the president, who recently urged him to call former President Obama to testify.
“I’ve been planning this for weeks. We’ve already interviewed the people,” Graham said. “We’ve been planning this for a long time.”
Senate Republicans are ramping up their probes tied to the Obama administration. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued its first subpoena last week as part of its investigation into Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are also months into a wide-ranging investigation that touches on the investigation into former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, something Graham says he will also probe.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, noted that the GOP questions about the Obama administration have been percolating before Biden was the party’s presumptive presidential nominee and the coronavirus.
“I think they’ll go with the investigation leads. … My view right now is I’d stay focused on the agenda we have and I think talk about how we’re going to help people recover from the pandemic and get the economy back on track. I think that’s got to be the center focus,” he said.
But Graham’s investigation has the backing of powerful figures including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has said Graham will have “ball control” on the issue. Graham garnered praise for the probe during an online Trump campaign event with Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law.
“Senate Republicans are taking steps to issue new subpoenas to a wide variety of Obama administration officials. … The American people deserve answers about how such abuses could happen, and we intend to get those answers,” McConnell said.
Republican senators have signaled that they will line up behind him to support the subpoena. Because Republicans hold a 12-10 panel majority, he will need the support of every GOP senator because a tie would result in the subpoena request failing.
“The Senate is a large body with many committees designed to do many things at once, so the Judiciary Committee is doing its job,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of the panel.
“What we see with the FBI and with DOJ and the FISA Court is hugely significant, I mean it’s hugely significant to the structure of our government, to any presidential administration going forward, whether it’s this administration or future ones,” he added. “So I think it’s vital the Judiciary perform its oversight role.”