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Lindsey Graham, Christopher Wray, and the Limits of Republican Resistance to Trump ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs

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“Should Donald Trump, Jr., have taken that meeting?” Senator Lindsey
Graham, of South Carolina, asked Christopher Wray, President Trump’s
pick to be the director of the F.B.I., at his confirmation hearing on
Wednesday. Graham had just read out the e-mail exchange between Trump,
Jr., and Rob Goldstone, whom Graham, in as concise a description as
anyone has come up with, referred to as “someone connected to the Miss
Universe pageant and has ties to Russian entertainment.” Goldstone said
that Russian officials were reaching out with incriminating information
about Hillary Clinton, as part of an effort to influence the 2016
election; Trump, Jr., professed to “love” the idea, and put in motion
plans for a meeting. In asking whether that was wise, Graham was
embarking on a ritual that has become a hallmark of the half year since
the Inauguration: a Trump nominee is asked to state something that seems
blindingly obvious—that he respects the rule of law, say, or knows that
torture is illegal, or doesn’t like it when Vladimir Putin tries to
shape an American election. And yet, because of the terrible behavior of
this President and the people around him, the questions come across as
fraught, often initially causing even the most adept respondents—Wray is
an experienced corporate litigator and a former Justice Department
official—to fumble them.

“Well, Senator, I don’t—I, I, I’m hearing for the first time your
description of it, so I’m not really in a position to speak to it,” Wray
said. (Later, he told Senator Chris Coons, of Delaware, that he hadn’t
even “had a chance to read any of the newspaper coverage.”)

Graham interrupted him: “Let me ask you this: If I got a call from
somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get
reëlected, they’ve got dirt on Lindsey Graham’s opponent, should I take
that meeting?”

“Senator, I think you would want to consult with some good legal
advisers before you did that,” Wray replied.

The exchange could have ended there, but Graham asked for a little more:
“Should I call the F.B.I.?”

“I think it would be wise to let the F.B.I. . . .” Wray began.

“You’re going to be the director of the F.B.I., pal!” Graham said, in a
way that suggested that we were no longer living in a time in which just
being told what was “wise” would be understood as a clear instruction.
“So what I want to hear you tell every politician, ‘If you get a call
from a foreign government suggesting that a foreign government wants to
help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the F.B.I.’ ”

Wray took the shortest of breaths and then, shifting his voice to the
sort one might hear in an elementary-school-civics video, delivered, “To
the members of this committee: any threat or effort to interfere with
our elections from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind
of thing the F.B.I. would want to know.”

“All right, so I’ll take that we should call you, and that’s a great
answer,” Graham said. With that, Wray seemed to regain his footing. And
yet it was an answer that did no more, basically, than describe a
function of the F.B.I. Whether one takes that as rising to greatness
may say more about the nonfunctioning state of certain politics than
anything else. The job that Wray is up for is open because Trump fired
the former director, James Comey, because, by Trump’s own account, Comey
paid too much attention to warnings about Russian interference. That
investigation is now in the hands of a special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Graham went on to ask whether Trump, Jr.,’s claim, in a statement,
before the e-mails came out, that the meeting was meant to be about
adoptions was “misleading.” Wray said that he just didn’t have the
context to answer; Graham asked him to get back to him. And, at another
point, he put Wray through the Trump Twitter-response test. After Trump,
Jr., appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Tuesday, and portrayed
the Russia meeting as a normal part of campaigning, his father tweeted,
“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and
innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”
“Witch hunt” is a phrase that Trump has used before in tweeting about
questions regarding Russia and his campaign. Odds are that Wray, and the
rest of us, will hear it applied to other areas related to the F.B.I.’s

“Do you believe that, in light of the Don, Jr., e-mail and other
allegations, that this whole thing about Trump campaign and Russia is a
witch hunt?” Graham asked him. “Is that a fair description of what we’re
all dealing with in America?”

Wray began to demur, citing his imperfect knowledge, when Graham pressed
him: “I’m asking you, as the future F.B.I. director, do you consider
this endeavor a witch hunt?”

“I do not consider Director Muller to be on a witch hunt,” Wray said. It
was a careful answer, not quite contradicting the President by leaving
open the possibility that others—the Democrats, the “Fake News Network”—were indeed chasing wraiths in Trump Tower.

That is further, nonetheless, than most Republicans have gone in
confronting Trump’s absurdities. Graham is one of the handful of G.O.P.
senators who never endorsed their party’s candidate. But Graham never
suggested an alternative, either, making it clear that he did not
believe that Clinton was an option. Other parts of Graham’s questioning
made it clear how extremely limited, and limiting, the opposition of
even the most Trump-averse Republican elected officials continues to be.
Graham and other Republicans used part of their time to disparage Comey.
This matters because, as Jeffrey Toobin pointed out this
in a look back at Watergate, historically it is the President’s own
party that has to abandon him before it makes sense to speak about
anything close to impeachment. And before Graham got to what he called
“the e-mail problems we’ve had with Donald, Jr., Donald Trump, Jr., the
last few days,” he questioned Wray closely about a Politico piece on
possible efforts by Ukrainian officials to get negative information
about Donald Trump to the Clinton campaign. “Will you look into this?”
the senator asked the nominee.

“I’d be happy to dig into it,” Wray said. And with that assurance—of yet
another Clinton investigation—Lindsey Graham, for one, was satisfied.

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