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Graham becomes center of Georgia storm

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Hackers love a bad transition The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump campaign files for Wis. recount l Secretaries of state fume at Trump allegations l Biden angered over transition delay MORE (R-S.C.), one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s staunchest Senate allies, has found himself embroiled in controversy over his conversation with Georgia’s secretary of state, who says the GOP senator pressured him to find ways to exclude ballots from being counted. 

Some Republican senators have recognized Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE as the president-elect, and others have said they’re going to let the courts handle disputes over vote counts.

Graham himself offered a fist bump to Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Trump campaign appeals dismissal of Pennsylvania election challenge Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday when she returned to the Senate floor for a critical vote, seemingly congratulating the vice president-elect.

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Yet Graham has staked out an aggressive position of questioning the vote results in several key states, particularly in Georgia. 

Graham told reporters Tuesday that he spoke to Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyMcSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' Arizona secretary of state calls on Trump, members of Congress to stop 'perpetuating misinformation' Graham becomes center of Georgia storm MORE (R) about election procedures in addition to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who claims that Graham pressured him to throw out ballots from areas with higher rates of discrepancies between the signatures on mail-in ballots and those on file in the voter database. 

The South Carolina senator also said he received a briefing about the process for counting mail-in ballots in Nevada but couldn’t remember exactly who provided it.

Raffensperger made a bombshell claim Monday when he told The Washington Post that Graham asked if the secretary of state had the power to exclude all mail-in ballots in counties with higher rates of nonmatching signatures. 

Graham on Monday evening denied the charge. He claimed he was merely asking about the process.  

“I’m asking him to explain to me the system,” Graham told reporters.

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“If you’re going to have mail-in voting, you got to verify the person who signed the envelope is also the person” in the voter database, he said.

Graham said he spoke to Trump on Monday evening but that the two discussed “national security.” 

On Tuesday, an aide to Raffensperger corroborated the claim that Graham tried to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state to exclude ballots. 

Gabriel Sterling, who works as an election implementation manager under Raffensperger, told CNN that Graham asked whether officials could ask a judge to throw out a large batch of ballots because of signature discrepancies. 

"What I heard was basically discussions about absentee ballots, and if a — potentially — if there was a percentage of signatures that weren't really, truly matching, is there some point when you get to where you can say, if somebody went to the courtroom, could say, 'Let’s throw out all these ballots because we have no way of knowing because the ballots are separate,'" he told CNN.  

Graham defended his actions on Tuesday and said he had expanded his conversations to officials in Arizona and Nevada. Graham’s comments created the impression that he spoke to the secretaries of state in both battlegrounds. 

But when a reporter tweeted that Graham spoke with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), Hobbs immediately fired off a tweet asserting that she did not speak with the Republican senator. Graham later clarified that he spoke with Ducey, the Republican governor. 

Graham said he received a briefing on Nevada’s process but didn’t speak to any official in the state. 

“Here's the goal, is to try to find a way to validate signatures better than we have today. It’s not complicated. It wasn’t about trying to change an election result. It’s to try and find out how do you deal with mail-in voting signature validation,” he said. 

Top Republicans are standing by Graham, who has gone from being one of Trump’s biggest critics in 2015 to one of his most vocal defenders after the 2016 election. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Mo.) — who chairs the committee with oversight of election procedures —said Graham “wouldn't be the first” senator to make such a call.

“I wasn't concerned about that as I looked through it and read it carefully,” he said. “I mean, every senator can talk to anybody who will pick up the phone and talk to them, and any secretary of state should be willing to talk to any senator who calls them, in my view. So I didn't see it as troublesome,” Blunt said. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.) declined to weigh in on Graham’s actions. 

Democrats were more critical, warning that Graham’s actions represented interference.

“A classic example today was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee calling around to states to try to interfere with the process. That was reckless, inappropriate,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNew York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn Biden congratulates Pelosi on Speaker nomination Senate Democrats introduce bill to shore up PPE supply MORE (D-N.Y.), characterizing Graham as “meddling with the vote counting in states that Trump lost.” 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGOP breaks with Trump firing of cyber chief: Adds to 'confusion and chaos' Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Graham says he's talked to officials in two states about election MORE (R.I.), a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and the former attorney general of Rhode Island, said it would be “problematic” if Graham tried to influence how state officials handle recounts and legal challenges brought by the Trump campaign against vote counts showing Biden won the election. 

“If all he’s trying to do is get information, people are entitled to do that. If he’s trying to influence the way they perform their duty, that becomes a bit problematic. And without knowing what was said, I can’t tell which is which,” Whitehouse said. 

Graham said he’s reaching out to state officials as “a United States senator who’s worried about the integrity of the election process.”

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“What I want to know: How does it work in Georgia? Is it bipartisan? Here’s my bottom line: Any signature verification system [for mail-in balloting] needs to be bipartisan,” he said. 

Graham’s outreach comes as he’s echoed Trump’s concerns about potential fraud in key states where the president is trailing Biden. Election experts have denied that an increase in mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud, and Trump’s legal team has had a series of setbacks in court.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another former state attorney general, said it’s hard to judge whether what Graham did was appropriate without knowing the details of his conversation. 

“I’m certainly going to presume he was careful to avoid any violation of law,” he said. “But the judgment should be made by people who know exactly what he said.”