Did Lindsey Graham push Georgia to throw out legally cast ballots?

Georgia's secretary of state claims Lindsey Graham pressured him directly, questioning the validity of legally cast absentee ballots.
Image: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at the Capitol on May 2, 2019.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at the Capitol on May 2, 2019.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

It was last week when much of the Republican Party turned on Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state. GOP Sens. David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler got the ball rolling, calling for Raffensperger to resign for reasons they struggled to explain. (They were reportedly coaxed by Donald Trump.)

MSNBC's Chris Hayes joked soon after that the senators seemed to berate their own state's Republican election administrator "because Democrats did too well," which isn't how any of this is supposed to work.

Nevertheless, the GOP offensive against Raffensperger has only intensified, with the president spending much of the weekend berating the Georgian via Twitter for being insufficiently loyal. But more importantly, the Republican campaign against one of their own may not be limited to strange rhetoric. The Washington Post reported overnight that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke to Raffensperger and questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots.

In the interview, Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump's unfounded claims about voting irregularities. In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state's signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

The article added that the Georgia secretary of state was "stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots."

For his part, Graham concedes that he had a conversation with Raffensperger about ballots, but the senator denied that he suggested throwing out legally cast ballots, calling the allegation "ridiculous." The sycophantic White House ally went on to tell reporters, "If he feels threatened by that conversation, he's got a problem."

Raffensperger nevertheless insists his version of events is the correct one. He told CNN late yesterday that the "implication" of Graham's message was, "Look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out."

On the surface, the allegations are themselves extraordinary. Georgia's secretary of state -- a lifelong conservative Republican -- claims the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressured him directly, questioning the validity of legally cast absentee ballots. Not surprisingly, congressional Democrats seized on the controversy, describing Graham's alleged actions "shameful," "despicable" and "a major scandal."

Some called for Graham's resignation, others raised the prospect of a Senate ethics investigation.

But others still raised the question of whether Graham crossed legal lines with his alleged abuse. Andrew Weissman, a longtime Justice Department official who helped lead Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, went so far as to characterize the senator's alleged actions as "a felony."

Time will tell what, if anything, becomes of the controversy, though I think it's especially important that a core truth is not in dispute: Lindsey Graham called Georgia's secretary of state -- during a statewide recount -- to discuss the state's system of counting absentee ballots. We know this for certain because it's the one thing the senator and Raffensperger agree on: the call about ballots happened.

But it probably shouldn't have. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote last night, "Why is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee calling Georgia's Secretary of State to discuss mechanics of an ongoing ballot count? Such a call would be implicitly coercive in the best case, even without Graham's alleged suggestion about throwing out lawful votes."

And that's the point I keep coming back to. The broader question of what Graham said to Raffensperger is obviously important and worth investigating, but I'm just as eager to hear the Judiciary Committee chairman answer more basic questions: Why did you make this call in the first place? Why use your office to intervene in the process at all?