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Lindsey Graham finds a new place for the Russia scandal goalposts

Lindsey Graham said he'll abandon Trump if there's evidence of collusion between him and Russia. The trouble is how Graham defines "collusion."
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016.

As a rule, no one is better at moving the Russia scandal goalposts than Rudy Giuliani. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, may be giving him a run for his money.

Last summer, for example, the South Carolina Republican not only co-authored legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Graham also drew a line in the sand about Mueller's possible findings. Though the senator expressed skepticism about possible "collusion" between Donald Trump and his Russian benefactors, Graham nevertheless told Politico, "[A]t the end of the day, if there is collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, that will be it for me."

The trouble is, "collusion" is a political term, which means different things to different people. What would the GOP senator have to see in order to abandon the president whose water he's carried for two years? He shared an extraordinary perspective with the New York Times.

...Trump, he insisted, knew where he stood on the special counsel's Russia investigation."I told the president that if you colluded with the Russians, if your campaign sat down and worked with foreign intelligence operatives to manipulate the results of the election, that'd be the end of us, " Graham said.

Wait, that's where the lines are now drawn? We've arrived at the point at which "collusion" is defined as campaign officials sitting down with Russian intelligence operatives to directly coordinate the manipulation of election results?

This is plainly foolish. Russia launched a military intelligence operation targeting American elections, for the express purpose of putting Trump in power. It was, by most objective measures, the most serious attack against the United States since 9/11, and there's an investigation underway to determine whether, and to what extent, the Kremlin had American confederates who cooperated with their plot.

Time will tell what the evidence shows, but now is an excellent time to start establishing some baseline standards. To hear Graham tell it, if Team Trump and Moscow worked together to manipulate election results, that wouldn't be acceptable -- but the implication of this is that everything short of this can and should be tolerated.

Except that's not a standard to be taken seriously. As a Democratic congressional official recently told NBC News, there will never be a contract, signed by Trump in blood, that says, "Hey Vlad, we're going to collude."

And to suggest that such a contract signed in blood is what's necessary to justify the importance of the scandal is a mistake.