Democrats have started the process of impeachment, but Lindsey Graham is still feeling good.
A steady supporter of Donald Trump, the South Carolina senator rejected allegations that the president withheld foreign aid in an effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 political rival.
Graham seemed to point a finger at the Pentagon instead, at least in part for dragging its feet in delaying the funds for Ukraine, and seemed to confirm an explanation that administration sources made earlier to RealClearPolitics.
“The actual delay in aid was coming from the Pentagon as much as anybody else — because they didn’t know about the [Ukrainian] president and whether he could be trusted,” Graham told reporters Wednesday after reviewing the transcript of a discussion July 25 between the two leaders and referring to Zelensky, who had just won election.
“I’m glad the aid started flowing, so there is no quid pro quo,” he continued. “I feel good about this.”
This new wrinkle in the narrative backs up the contention of senior administration officials, who on Tuesday told RealClearPolitics that the delay was the result of “a policy process” review carried out by then-acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“The president has consistently made it clear that any foreign aid spent overseas must not only run through a good-government process, but also protect U.S. interests abroad,” an aide said of the review ordered by the president. “That good-government process was run by the president’s policy team on this account to ensure that those goals were met.”
While the review was ordered in late June or early July, according to the administration, and the money released in September, its existence has done nothing to stop Democrats’ momentum toward impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday ordered a formal impeachment inquiry by the House.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution,” Pelosi told reporters that evening before the transcript of Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky was released by the White House on Wednesday morning. The president “must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
The alleged reason for the delay, a policy review, was news in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell summed up the confusion, telling reporters on Tuesday that he had “no idea what precipitated the delay.”
The Pentagon did not return an RCP request for comment. But if anyone heard of the reason for the holdup from the president beforehand, it likely was Graham. Once a Trump skeptic, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has become a true believer in him. The two, he noted, have golfed together.
But explanations for the aid delay will do little to calm an uproar among Democrats about the Trump-Zelensky call, especially now that the transcript has been made public.
Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor” by looking into “Crowdstrike,” a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to respond to Russian hacking in 2016. He also raised the issue of Hunter Biden, who was employed by a Ukrainian oil company despite a resume lacking experience in energy or European affairs
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the [corruption] prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump said to Zelensky. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it ... it sounds horrible to me.”
Trump did not touch explicitly on the one topic that now threatens to end his presidency. Other than mentioning that “we do a lot for Ukraine,” he said nothing specific about foreign aid, such as the nearly $400 million he had put on hold a week before the July 25 conversation. Democrats assert that the “favor” reference implies a quid pro quo arrangement.
In front of the cameras during a bilateral meeting with Zelensky in New York, and after the transcript was released, Trump again denied making a quid pro quo offer, and Zelensky denied feeling pressured to act on Trump’s request.
Former Vice President Biden, however, feels targeted and has accused the president of abusing “his power to come after my family.”