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Lindsey Graham goes from moving the goalposts to eliminating them

Lindsey Graham offers an unfortunate case study: there's a difference between moving the goalposts and eliminating them.
Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)
Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

In late September, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, "If you're looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you'd be very disappointed. That does not exist."

We now know, of course, that the senator was wrong. The evidence that Donald Trump did exactly that is plain, obvious, and uncontested.

A month later, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman set an important standard in the president's Ukraine scandal: "If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing."

Again, it's now overwhelmingly clear that Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the July 25 phone call between the American president and Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskiy.

So, the South Carolinian must be "very disturbed," right? Wrong.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he would not be reading two newly released deposition transcripts, calling the Democratic-led impeachment probe a "bunch of BS."Graham's comments came hours after House investigators released transcripts of the depositions of Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

Let's not forget that it was less than a month ago when Graham also published a tweet insisting that if House Democrats refused to release the "full transcript" of Kurt Volker's testimony it would be "an abuse of power."

House Democrats released that transcript. Soon after, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested he didn't want to read the materials, ignoring his demands from early October.

Graham's inconsistencies and hypocrisy are likely to do lasting harm to his reputation, but I think there are a couple of related angles that make this story even more damaging.

First, we've grown accustomed to Republicans clumsily moving the goalposts in the hopes of helping their scandal-plagued president, but Graham's latest posture was considerably more ridiculous: the senator isn't moving the goalposts; he's eliminating them.

Graham's original moves in September and October were to set standards he didn't expect the controversy to meet. In November, unable to anticipate how much worse the scandal might become, the GOP senator has decided to scrap the whole idea of standards, preferring instead to throw his arms up in disgust, and declare the whole matter unworthy of his time, his earlier comments notwithstanding

In other words, as the controversy first came to light, Graham said he wanted to see evidence of specific kinds of presidential wrongdoing. Now that evidence has been presented to him on a platter. If he were merely trying to move the goalposts, Graham would now call for entirely new kinds of evidence, but the senator is instead comfortable deeming all evidence irrelevant.

It's not a posture worthy of someone elected to serve in a position of power and influence.

And second, Lindsey Graham's reading habits have become a point of increasing concern. In July 2015, the South Carolinian condemned the international nuclear agreement with Iran, though when pressed, Graham conceded he hadn't read it. In May 2019, Graham acknowledged that he hadn't read the Mueller Report, either.

As of yesterday, the Republican lawmaker, whose job ostensibly involves reading materials such as witness depositions in an impeachment inquiry, suggested he was adding this to the list of things he didn't feel like reading.

Lindsey Graham worked hard to earn a reputation as a serious and constructive senator in the eyes of the political establishment. I'm not sure what, if anything, he'll able to do to reclaim that stature now that he's carelessly tossed it aside.