Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing quite a bit of criticism over his “riots in the streets” rhetoric, and for good reason: The South Carolina Republican’s on-air comments about Donald Trump’s followers turning to violence in the event of a possible indictment were indefensible.
There was, however, a key detail that shouldn’t go overlooked. Graham didn’t just seem to justify prospective violence, the longtime GOP lawmaker also went into some detail about the basis for the perceived injustice. “If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hillary Clinton set up a server in her basement,” the senator told Fox News, “there literally will be riots in the street.”
Yesterday morning, Republican Sen. John Cornyn wasn’t nearly as reckless, though the Texan published a tweet touting the underlying partisan principle:
“Democrats and the FBI created the Hillary Clinton standard for non-prosecution of mishandling classified information. Will Donald Trump be held to a different standard?”
Cornyn was referencing a Wall Street Journal editorial, published yesterday, pushing the idea.
For those who don’t care about factual details, this framing may very well have superficial appeal: Clinton was accused of mishandling sensitive materials; Trump was accused of mishandling sensitive materials. She wasn’t indicted, so therefore, he shouldn’t be indicted. If the two are held to different standards, at least according to Graham, the Republican’s most radical followers will feel justified in lashing out with literal societal violence.
The problem emerges when grown-ups bother to look beyond the surface — and notice that the allegations surrounding Clinton and Trump aren’t especially similar.
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, following 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.
To be sure, it’s possible that federal investigators will examine Trump’s alleged misconduct and come to a similar conclusion. Maybe the former president will be exonerated. Maybe it only appears that he committed a variety of felonies by bringing classified secrets to his glorified country club and refusing to give them back.
But, on the other hand, if prosecutors conclude that the Republican deserves to be indicted, it won’t be because of a double standard. It will be because the evidence proved that he broke the law.
Chances are, Graham, Cornyn, and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal understand this. It’s what makes their faux confusion that much more ridiculous.