Lindsey Graham used to be one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics. What happened?
President Donald Trump on Saturday cited Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as he seemingly attempts to build a case for firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he feels has not adequately protected him from the FBI probes that have appeared to inch closer to him in recent weeks.
“Every President deserves an Attorney General they have confidence in,” Trump quoted Graham as saying in a tweet Saturday. “I believe every President has a right to their Cabinet, these are not lifetime appointments. You serve at the pleasure of the President.”
Graham’s comments — made to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday — may help give Trump political cover to terminate his attorney general, and mark a stark contrast to Graham’s previously tough stance on the matter.
The South Carolina Republican, who was once one of Trump’s most vocal conservative critics, famously said in 2017 that there would be “holy hell to pay” if the president sacked Sessions.
“I’m 100% behind Jeff Sessions,” Graham said of his former senate colleague at the time, adding that any attempt to go kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller would bring about the “beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
Now, though, Graham appears to have gone from threatening “holy hell” if Sessions is fired to suggesting that ousting the attorney general is fine, as long as Trump does it after November’s midterms.
Firing him now, Graham told reporters this week, would be a “non-starter.”
It wasn’t always like this.
Graham was once one of the most outspoken Republican Trump critics, both before and after he assumed the presidency.
The two butted heads early in the 2016 campaign, during which Graham mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.
“He’s bringing his name down and he’s not helping the process and he shouldn’t be commander in chief,” Graham said on television in 2015, describing Trump as a “jackass.”
Trump responded to the criticism by publicly giving out Graham’s phone number during a televised speech. Graham spoofed the incident in a video soon after, destroying his cell phone with a meat cleaver, a blender and a golf club.
“He doesn’t represent my party,” Graham said at the time.
He continued to bash Trump throughout 2016, tweeting a couple months before the Republican National Convention that “if we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it.”
Graham has spoken out at Trump since he took office, and has taken steps seeking to protect Mueller, whose probe Trump has repeatedly slammed as a “witch hunt.”
But he’s also walked back a number of his previous criticisms, telling the View earlier this year that he now sees Trump as “my president” because “he won.”
I called him a ‘race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.’ I ran out of things to say,” Graham said. “He won. Guess what? He’s our president.”
“In my view, he is my president, and he’s doing a really good job on multiple fronts,” Graham added.
Graham, who has taken to golfing with the president, has also bashed the media for its supposed “endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook not fit to be president” — despite having literally called Trump a “kook” himself in the past.
It’s been a stunning reversal, made all the more shocking given Trump’s continued attacks on the ailing McCain — one of Graham’s closest friends and a frequent critic of the president. It was announced Friday that McCain is discontinuing his brain cancer treatment, and Trump reportedly has no plans to comment before he dies.
While he hasn’t made any statements about McCain, Trump spent Saturday morning bashing Sessions, who said this week that his Department of Justice “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
Trump has repeatedly bashed Sessions over the Russia investigation. An attempt to fire Sessions, or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the Russia probe since Sessions recused himself in early 2017, would likely be regarded as an attempt to interfere in the Mueller investigation.
“Jeff Sessions said he wouldn’t allow politics to influence him only because he doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Highly conflicted Bob Mueller and his gang of 17 Angry Dems are having a field day as real corruption goes untouched. No Collusion!”