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Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies

The Hill logo The Hill 1/21/2019 Jordain Carney

Lindsey Graham wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies © The Hill Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies New tensions are flaring on the Senate Judiciary Committee over plans by newly minted Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to dig into Obama-era scandals.

Graham, a close ally of President Trump's, has outlined several areas he wants to probe now that he has the Judiciary Committee gavel.

They include the FBI's handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications targeting former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked about Graham's plans, started laughing and compared them to the "thrilling days of yesteryear."

"This is going to be like the History Channel it turns out. Instead of taking a look at the current issues, Lindsey Graham wants to go back and answer important questions about the Bermuda Triangle and Hillary Clinton," Durbin told The Hill.

Durbin said he was "concerned" about Graham's plans but quipped that "you know there is that question about Jimmy Carter which he probably wants to ask."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), another member of the panel, said maybe Graham should "investigate Benghazi some more too" - an apparent reference to a years-long House probe that Democrats considered a political stunt.

Graham's plans come while tensions on the panel linger from the deeply partisan fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Graham won praise from conservatives during that battle, when he exploded at Democrats during the hearing and accused them of trying to "destroy this guy's life" after sexual assault allegations surfaced against Kavanaugh.

Graham has seesawed in the Trump era from moderate deal-maker to firebrand ally for the president, who remains popular in South Carolina. Graham is up for reelection in 2020.

He has cut deals with Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including helping to draft legislation with Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without "good cause." The White House and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) oppose that bill.

Graham has also worked closely with Durbin on immigration reform in another break with Trump and has been hustling behind the scenes to try to reach an agreement that would end the weeks-long partial government shutdown.

Coons, a member of the Judiciary Committee, encouraged Graham to thread the needle carefully, adding that "it depends how divisive partisan topics are approached."

"It is possible for the Judiciary Committee to remain a highly functional committee even while tackling controversial topics," Coons said. Asked if he was saying Graham should focus on more bipartisan areas first, he added that "I think that would be a more constructive way to start, I'll simply put it that way."

Democrats are now pushing for the committee to dig into an explosive BuzzFeed News report that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told Mueller that Trump personally directed him to lie after his election about the timing of when the negotiations involving a Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in an effort to obscure the president's involvement.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Graham on Friday asking him to call Cohen to testify before the committee.

"Our committee must conduct a thorough investigation of the President's involvement in these crimes and whether he obstructed justice to hide them. ... The hour to put country before petty partisan differences has come," he added.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, added in a statement, without directly mentioning Graham, that Republicans should "join in a bipartisan effort to get the facts to the American people, who deserve to know the full story of what happened during and after the 2016 election."

Graham has aligned himself closely to Trump on some key areas within the panel's jurisdiction.

He's promised he'll use the Judiciary Committee to clear the president's conservative judicial picks. And he's committed the panel to digging into issues at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI that Trump publicly pressured former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate.

Graham told reporters earlier this month that he would do a "deep dive into the FISA issue" as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And he told Fox News last month that he believed the FBI "phoned in" the Clinton probe and were "in the tank" for the Democratic presidential nominee.

"There's a certain unevenness here about how you investigate campaigns," Graham said, adding that he believed there was "100 percent" a double standard between how the bureau handled the investigation into Clinton compared to investigating the Trump campaign.

Graham also said late last year that he would "totally" investigate the FBI's handling of its investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Clinton's email. He added separately last month that he would "get to the bottom of" the FISA warrant applications against Page and that he wanted to have "an in-depth discussion" with former FBI Director James Comey.

Asked about his investigation plans and the criticism from Democrats, a spokeswoman for Graham pointed to a pair of tweets from the GOP senator on Friday where he doubled down.

Graham described as "stunning" a Fox News report that Justice Department official Bruce Ohr discussed his views on a controversial research opposition dossier on Trump with individuals now on special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

"These purported revelations will NOT get a pass in Senate Judiciary Committee," Graham added.

Graham's investigations could overlap with work by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is deep into its own probe of the 2016 election. The two panels previously bumped elbows under Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), with both demanding to hear from Comey and meet with Mueller.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of both panels, acknowledged that there had previously been a "jurisdictional battle" between the two committees, but said that oversight of the Justice Department and FBI was in the Judiciary Committee's lane.

"The Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI and so I think oversight hearings ... could be useful," he said.

He added that "as long as it's focused on oversight of those institutions, the FBI and DOJ, it's clearly in the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction ... [But] there's no question that sometimes there's tension between those two."

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