IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What Lindsey Graham still doesn’t get about his ‘riots’ rhetoric

Lindsey Graham keeps arguing that the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton controversies are the same. Reality keeps telling a very different story.


It was nine days ago when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham first predicted that there’d be “riots in the street” if Donald Trump were to be criminally charged in the scandal surrounding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. The South Carolinian specifically argued that the violence wouldn’t just be a partisan backlash, but rather, it’d be a response to a perceived injustice and lack of fairness.

“If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hillary Clinton set up a server in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street,” Graham told Fox News on Aug. 28.

Over the weekend, the GOP senator and sycophantic Trump ally sat down with CNBC and defended his prognostication.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on Saturday defended suggesting there would be “riots in the streets” if former President Donald Trump was prosecuted for mishandling classified information, saying he condemned the violence seen during the Capitol riot last year. “What I tried to do was state the obvious,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the Ambrosetti Forum in Italy.

If he had any regrets over his recent choice of words, the lawmaker hid it well.

“Here’s what I said: The raid on [former] President Trump’s home, the likely nominee for 2024, better bear some fruit here,” Graham argued. “If it’s just about mishandling classified information, we’ve had a standard set when it came to Hillary Clinton. ... I said that if it’s similar to what happened to Clinton and he gets prosecuted, it’ll be one of the most disruptive events in America.”

Graham was willing to endorse “handling classified information responsibly,” but again added that “mishandling classified information is really bad, but we can’t have a system where one person gets prosecuted and the other doesn’t.”

Let’s review the many reasons the Republican — who, among other things, used to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee — is wrong for reasons he really ought to understand.

Right off the bat, as law enforcement faces an escalating number of threats from right-wing extremists, Graham could take this opportunity to discourage radicalized members of his party’s base from turning to violence. Given his proximity to the former president, that might even help.

Instead, Graham has now twice taken an unsettling alternate path, suggesting hypothetical rioters’ violence would somehow have merit. In a Washington Post analysis, Philip Bump explained: “Graham’s angry, pointed declaration of what would come was predicated on the idea that riots would in some way be justified, that a universe of Trump supporters who have come to understand investigations as unwarranted would understandably engage in violence.”

Graham hasn’t bothered to argue that Trump is innocent. Indeed, the senator has seemed largely indifferent to criminal culpability.

What the South Carolinian seems far more interested in is equal treatment. Graham has effectively argued that if Clinton wasn’t charged for mishandling classified materials, then Trump shouldn’t be charged for mishandling classified materials. For those who don’t care about factual details, this framing may very well have superficial appeal: If the two are held to different standards, Trump’s most radical followers will feel justified in lashing out with literal societal violence.

And to hear Graham tell it, the “rioting” will be law enforcement’s fault, not Trump’s, since the Justice Department applied the law unequally.

The problem, as the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee almost certainly knows, is that the comparison is wrong.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, Clinton’s email protocols were, of course, the subject of a lengthy criminal probe. Federal investigators appeared eager to find evidence of wrongdoing: Then-FBI Director James Comey privately marveled at the “visceral hatred” some senior FBI officials in New York had for the former secretary of state.

But federal law enforcement nevertheless didn’t charge the Democrat with any crimes because they couldn’t find evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Comey took the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing Clinton anyway, but he grudgingly conceded that the FBI, after an exhaustive investigation, couldn’t indict her.

Trump’s State Department similarly conceded — late on a Friday afternoon — that there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information from Clinton. The inspector general’s office in Trump’s Justice Department also concluded that the FBI had no reason to charge Clinton.

Trump’s scandal bears little resemblance to his former rival’s. Clinton didn’t take physical documents. She didn’t ignore pleas for cooperation. She didn’t store highly sensitive secrets at a private club that had an unfortunate habit of letting foreign spies walk around.

What’s more, a Washington Post analysis added last week that when Comey commented on the decision not to indict Clinton, he also pointed to four elements that he said had been present “in some combination” in previous prosecutions involving removal or mishandling of classified information:

  1. “Clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information.”
  2. “Vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct.”
  3. “Indications of disloyalty to the United States.”
  4. “Efforts to obstruct justice.”

Comey told the public: “We do not see those things here,” so the former secretary of state wasn’t charged.

But look at that list again when evaluating the seriousness of Trump’s scandal — and notice how easy it is to check the individual boxes.

Graham keeps arguing that the Trump and Clinton controversies are effectively identical. Reality keeps telling a very different story.

Postscript: Clinton herself weighed in on the subject this morning with a notable Twitter thread: