National Politics

SC’s Graham breaks with Trump over accepting dirt on opponents from foreign states

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP file photo

A day after President Donald Trump said he would consider taking dirt from foreign officials regarding his political opponents, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham broke with his ally on the issue.

In an interview Thursday on Capitol Hill, the South Carolina Republican said he told Trump directly that “it’s not a crime but it’s probably not a good idea” to sit down with representatives of a foreign government to collect opposition research during a political campaign.

Graham’s conversation with Trump came after the president told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday that he would take information on his opposition from foreign government — and that he may not report these offers to the FBI.

“I think you might want to listen. There isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said during the interview Wednesday. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

Asked whether Trump was receptive to Graham’s suggestion that a president ought not behave in such a way, Graham said, with a slight laugh, “Well, I think he understood where I’m coming from.”

If Trump was at all irked with Graham, however, his displeasure likely dissipated Thursday morning, when Graham issued a scathing statement taking Democrats to task for relying on opposition research compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele.

“During (the 2016) race, we had a major American political party hire a foreign national, Christopher Steele, to dig up dirt on an American presidential candidate,” Graham said.

“The outrage some of my Democratic colleagues are raising about President Trump’s comments will hopefully be met with equal outrage that their own party hired a foreign national to do opposition research on President Trump’s campaign and that information, unverified, was apparently used by the FBI to obtain a warrant against an American citizen,” he added.

Graham was only telling part of the story.

As McClatchy and other news outlets have reported, it was actually a Republican critic of Trump’s who first sought and paid for the opposition research, hiring a Washington-based firm that contracted with Steele — who ran a private firm of his own — to compile the information in what would eventually be known as the “Steele dossier.”

After Trump won the GOP nomination, Democrats paid for access to the dossier, which contained numerous salacious and unsubstantiated details of Trump’s dealings with the Russians. The Obama-era FBI used information contained in that dossier to help justify a warrant to perform surveillance on a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page.

As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham wants to use his panel to hold hearings on the circumstances that led up to issuing that surveillance warrant.

He told reporters Thursday he would wait for the conclusion of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into these events, then his committee would take it from there.

“Somebody’s gotta fix the problems in the future,” Graham said.
Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.
Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.