Opinion Extra

Lindsey Graham should help protect Mueller’s investigation

As United States attorney for the District of South Carolina, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, to assure the rule of law is protected and the equal application of justice is pursued without interference. Sadly, and dangerously, that strong commitment to the rule of law has broken down under the current administration.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, following in the footsteps of Senator Thurmond, has assumed one of the most influential positions in Washington as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In this position, he is overseeing the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attacks on America’s elections. Barr has publicly criticized the investigation and even wrote an unsolicited memo to the White House and Justice Department that offered a rationale for President Trump to undermine the special counsel. The Mueller investigation has already resulted in eight guilty pleas including President Trump’s campaign chairman, personal lawyer, national security advisor, and deputy campaign manager.

Graham has defended the integrity of the Mueller investigation by voting for bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel and pledging “to the American people, as a Republican, to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference.” This pledge to protect Mr. Muel

Bill Nettles

ler’s investigation from interference is a shining example of the type of independence that is necessary if the public is to have faith in the investigation, regardless of its outcome.

President Trump has grown more confrontational since his longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen pled guilty and began cooperating with Mueller. The president dangled a pardon to his campaign chairman Paul Manafort to incentivize him to refuse to tell the truth. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is in a position to act on his public threats to sabotage the investigation — and Mr. Barr will be in that position next if confirmed.

Silence and complacency, particularly by officials in a position to restore Congress’ oversight of the executive branch, is unacceptable. That’s why we need South Carolina’s elected officials to speak up — and speak up clearly.

Graham has the opportunity to take steps as Judiciary Committee chairman to protect Mueller’s ability to continue following the facts. The chairman who he is succeeding, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, took steps to protect the special counsel in a bipartisan way and Graham should too — letting facts, not tweets, tell the truth Americans demand and deserve.

We ask Graham to provide the type of independent leadership that he has displayed in the past. We also ask that he require Mueller’s final report to be made public — just as he voted and insisted that the Starr Report become public when he was a House Impeachment manager in 1999. This is the kind of leadership that the nation needs to pull us back from the political precipice.

This is a tough time for America. Our national conversation has become just a series of shouted insults. We can do better than this -- but it will only happen when leaders like Senator Graham lead the way.

William Nettles served as the United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina from 2010 to 2016.