Georgia's Republican Secretary of State this week accused Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) of pressuring him to discard legally cast ballots. A witness has corroborated elements of the allegation, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which has no jurisdiction over election administration -- has struggled to explain why he contacted officials outside his home state.
It certainly doesn't help that Graham appears to have changed parts of his version of events.
Perhaps an ethics inquiry can help sort this out? CNN reported yesterday on a formal request sent to the Senate Ethics Committee this week, requesting an investigation.
In a letter, Walter Shaub, a former top ethics watchdog for the federal government, Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush's administration, and Claire Finkelstein, the director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, asked the panel to look into Graham's call last week with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and whether Graham "suggested" that Raffensperger "disenfranchise Georgia voters by not counting votes lawfully cast for the office of president."
On Twitter, Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, accused Graham of "subverting" democracy, adding, "[I]f a powerful Senate chairman calling a top election official to propose disenfranchising Americans isn't an ethics violation, the Senate has no ethics at all."
In terms of the process, practically anyone can make a referral to the Senate Ethics Committee, and its members have a lot of discretion over which inquiries they pursue. Whether the panel intends to take up the Graham controversy remains unclear.
But the Judiciary Committee chairman seems indifferent to the allegations. "I get accused of everything, I'm just going to keep being me," Graham said yesterday.
It's worth emphasizing that the South Carolinian hasn't been accused of "everything." He's been accused of a fairly specific thing: interfering with a vote-count process, and improperly lobbying a state official to discard legally cast votes.
The fact that his accuser has no obvious reason to lie -- they're both conservative Republicans -- makes the matter that much more difficult to dismiss.