Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) may have made a huge mistake. On Monday, the Palmetto State institution found himself in the middle of a scandal after Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger accused Graham of asking him to throw out valid ballots in the Peach State during a recent phone call.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Graham and Raffensperger actually spoke twice on the phone–on the same day. The request to toss ballots “from counties with higher rates of signature errors” reportedly occurred during the second call. And there was a witness during the call in question.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system manager, confirmed to NBC News that Graham brought up the subject of throwing out ballots from “whole counties” with high rates of signature rejections.
Questions immediately swirled–and so did the speculation.
“Perfect call?” Tulane Law Professor and election law expert Ross Garber tweeted–a reference to President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I wonder who Senator Graham spoke to between the two calls?” asked Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Research Director Robert Maguire via Twitter.
Former White House ethics attorney Walter Shaub was similarly interested and said that an investigation into Graham “is needed.”
That line of thought quickly picked up steam among legal experts.
“It is deeply troubling,” said Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law during a Monday evening appearance on MSNBC. “Here is something that the Justice Department should indeed open an inquiry into.”
“There is more than sufficient predication here to open a federal investigation,” asserted former U.S. Attorney and current University of Alabama Law Professor Joyce White Vance via Twitter on Tuesday. “Georgians [and] all Americans deserve to know what happened, not just be left to speculate over a matter so serious.”
Democrats were quick to accuse Graham of perfidy.
Top Democratic Party and Biden campaign election lawyer Marc Elias, a veteran of voting rights litigation, also called for Graham to be investigated.
“This is both outrageous and should be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee,” he tweeted on Monday evening.
“Did Lindsey Graham illegally pressure the Georgia Secretary of State to rig the election after the fact?” asked Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a top ally to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and himself a member of Democratic Party leadership via Twitter. “The Justice Department should find out.”
Others were a bit more forthcoming in their estimation of what Graham’s ask might actually mean in legal terms.
University of Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck all-but accused the South Carolina Republican of breaking Georgia election law:
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) November 17, 2020
Andrew Weissmann, former top lieutenant to then-special counsel Robert Mueller, currently prone to shoot from the hip, decided to just say it outright: “This is what we in the legal world call a felony.”
An investigation into a sitting U.S. senator, a Republican at that, on voting fraud-related felony charges sounds a bit like a plot from an Aaron Sorkin creative effort where the Democrats ultimately decide to let the wayward GOPer off the hook. But partisans quickly pounced to heap scorn and downplay Graham’s alleged comments.
National Republic Senate Committee Senior Advisor Matt Whitlock tweeted that Raffensperger “seemingly” walked back his allegations during a Tuesday morning interview on Fox News.
Liberal radio host and writer Joe Sudbay, however, interpreted that same interview a bit differently. He determined that Georgia’s top elections official was “standing by his remarks.”
Graham, for his part, attempted to defuse the tension caused by his conversations with Raffensperger by claiming there was nothing untoward going on–because he also recently talked to top elections officials in Nevada and Arizona. That excuse didn’t go over well.
Discourse Blog writer Paul Blest noted a key feature in Graham’s alleged calls to various secretaries of state across the country:
Has Graham talked to the NC Board of Elections or the Florida Secretary of State, or is he just worried about election integrity in states Biden won https://t.co/k4ISSMV64l
— Paul Blest (@pblest) November 17, 2020
Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) also had a problem with Graham’s claim about their would-be chat–she said it was false:
So this just happened.
Sen. Lindsey Graham tells reporters he’s also spoken to Secretary of State of Arizona (and Nevada). To normalize the idea of these communications?
Secretary of State of Arizona immediately responds that Graham’s statement is false.👇 https://t.co/widIyZYJFP
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) November 17, 2020
Nevada’s Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, also denied that she had spoken with Graham or any other members of Congress.
Some commentators took stock of a controversial post-Election Day memo issued by Attorney General Bill Barr, which authorized federal prosecutors to investigate “substantial” allegations of voting irregularities that occurred during the 2020 general election:
Attn: AG Barr
Still searching for evidence of attempts to interfere with election? Appears that Senator Lindsey Graham should be investigated immediately. https://t.co/V1Q23G2NSY
— Kristen Clarke 866-OUR-VOTE (@KristenClarkeJD) November 16, 2020
So this seems like something that would come under the guidance Bill Barr recently gave DOJ to investigate 👀 https://t.co/QvKO3nUUIx
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) November 16, 2020
“Not that I consider it remotely likely, but it would be an amazing turn of events if Barr’s authorization for U.S. Attorneys to take overt steps to prosecute election interference before the state certifications come in…results in the timely arrest of Sen. Lindsey Graham,” New York City-based attorney and author Luppe B. Luppen tweeted.
Sen. Graham, for his part, said that Raffensperger’s characterization of the call as a pressure campaign was “ridiculous.” He defended the call again on Tuesday when asked about it by CNN’s Manu Raju.
[image via om Brenner/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]