Trump Ally Lindsey Graham Set to Become Senate Judiciary Chairman

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Lindsey Graham, a fierce defender of President Donald Trump, is seeking to lead the Judiciary Committee next year, where he could deliver on his threats to investigate the Justice Department’s handling of probes on Hillary Clinton and Russian election-meddling.

“I will seek the chairmanship,” Graham said Friday in an interview. He later tweeted, “If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as Chairman, I will push for the appointment and Senate confirmation of highly qualified conservative judges to the federal bench and aggressive oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI.”

Graham, a frequent golfing companion of Trump’s, warned Democrats in an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Nov. 14 that he’s prepared to dig into Democrats if the party’s new majority in the House scrutinizes Trump and the 2016 elections. The Judiciary panel oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department, which Trump has harshly criticized.

Referring to the Russia probe and Clinton, Graham said: "We need a special counsel to look at all this, but I intend to look at it." He said Clinton’s use of a private email server needs to be re-examined, along with Democrats’ role in funding a dossier forwarded to the FBI that made allegations about Trump’s involvement with Russia before his election.

"To my Democratic friends, if you’re going to look backward, we’re all going to look backward," Graham said. "Was the reason she wasn’t indicted is because they wanted to make sure that they stopped Trump?"

Grassley’s Switch

Graham, 63, was given the opportunity to take over the Judiciary panel after its current chairman, Chuck Grassley, said he would take over leadership of the Senate Finance Committee. As the next most senior Republican on the Judiciary panel, Graham is all but guaranteed the chairmanship he’s seeking.

Democrats won a House majority in last week’s elections and have pledged to closely examine the Trump administration, the president’s finances and Russian influence in U.S. elections. Trump warned at a news conference last week of a “war-like posture” if the Democratic House opens new probes. He said the Republican-controlled Senate would retaliate by investigating “questionable things” done by Democrats, including “leaks of classified information.”

Graham, who has occasionally criticized Trump but increasingly defends him, could emerge as the House Democrats’ biggest counterweight in Congress. Graham served as a military lawyer while on active duty in the Air Force and National Guard. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 2015.

Graham would preside over hearings for a new attorney general and any Supreme Court nominees. He emerged as a staunch defender of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during a confirmation process in which Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault when he was in high school.

Graham said Thursday in an interview that it’s important to start considering names for a permanent attorney general to replace acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

The Republican senator has said he’d vote for proposed legislation to block the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But he also has disputed Democratic arguments that Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election because he’s criticized the investigation in the past.

“You don’t recuse somebody because they have opinions different than the people they are overseeing,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

On another hotly disputed issue, Graham has said he’d like to work with Democrats on immigration legislation. He previously has backed comprehensive overhauls of immigration laws and proposed deals linking Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico to legalization for some in the U.S. without documentation.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.