Graham pushes back on Mattis criticism of Trump: 'You're missing something here, my friend'

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-S.C.) pushed back on former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill MORE’s criticism of President Trump over the handling of nationwide protests against police brutality. 

“To Gen. Mattis, I think you're missing something here my friend,” Graham said Thursday on “Fox & Friends.” 

“You're missing the fact that the liberal media has taken every event in the last three and half years and laid it at the president's feet. I'm not saying he's blameless, but I am saying that you're buying into a narrative that I think is quite frankly unfair,” Graham added. 

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In a statement to The Atlantic published by the magazine Wednesday evening, Mattis said Trump is the first president in his lifetime who is trying to divide rather than unite the country. 

He took aim at Trump's call to deploy troops to states over the protests that broke out following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and said the situation is the “consequence of three years without mature leadership.” 

Graham, however, defended Trump and claimed there’s an “effort to destroy” Trump’s presidency. 

“It is so fashionable to blame President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE for every wrong in America,” Graham added. “And he can be a handful, and can he do better, yes, but the problems we have in America today weren't caused by Donald Trump, and hopefully he can help the nation heal some of these problems.”

Graham called the criticism “easy, cheap politics.” 

In the interview, Graham acknowledged that he thinks the country needs to deal with issues surrounding race and police but said he thinks that the protests this week, which have sometimes turned violent, are handling it the “wrong way.” 

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“I've come to believe that young black men, rightly or wrongly, perceive the police to be a threat when many times they're not, but we've got to deal with that problem. And if we don't be honest with the problem then we're never going to make progress,” he said. 

“Right. I just don't think destroying 5th Avenue in Manhattan is the way to do it,” Fox’s Brian Kilmeade responded. 

“Yes, I couldn't agree with you more, as a matter of fact, this is the wrong way to do it,” Graham replied. 

Graham suggested that “community policing” can help solve the issue.

“There's no reason to beat up a cop or riot or burn down buildings to try to make America a better place. You make a better — America a better place by having a conversation and take constructive actions,” the senator said. 

In his blistering statement, Mattis took a different approach and offered support for the protesters. 

He said that protesters are “rightly demanding” equal justice under the law  and urged the public not to be distracted “by a small number of lawbreakers.” 

He denounced Trump’s call to deploy troops in response to the protests and said “we must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’”

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” he said. 

In response, Trump called Mattis the “world’s most overrated general.” 

“His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom ‘brought home the bacon’. I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!” Trump tweeted.