Why Is Lindsey Graham Jumping to Roger Stone’s Defense?

His first big move as Senate Judiciary chairman was to hound the FBI about Stone’s arrest.
February 4, 2019
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Lindsey Graham (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It took almost two years for Sen. Lindsey Graham to go from warning us about candidate Donald Trumpthat he was a “race baiting bigot” and a “kook” and that by nominating him the GOP would be destroyed and deserve itto embracing him wholeheartedly. His turnaround on Roger Stone took only a fraction of that time.

After Stone was arrested on January 25, Graham was asked by a CNN reporter for his comment. Graham was dismissive, telling Manu Raju: “I don’t believe much I read. And Roger Stone is probably the last guy I’d hang my hat on. Let’s see what the legal process does. I’m not going to jump into the middle of that.”

Yet several days and perhaps a call from the White House can make all the difference. So now, in his debut, high profile act as the newly seated Senate Judiciary chairman, Graham has chosen to avenge Roger Stone. And this is suddenly an urgent matter, to be resolved by Tuesday. Last week Graham sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking him to personally answer a series of questions and to have an official brief to the committee by February 5. The letter was not only gratuitously dramatic, but it included at least one conspiracy theory tweeted by Trump that perhaps someone from the bureau had tipped off members of the media who captured the raid on camera.

The raid on Stone’s house included not only an arrest warrant but a search warrant, in which—just like the raids at the homes of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohenthe element of surprise was paramount. It wouldn’t take an federal investigator to conclude that Stoneliar, conniver and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster”—is the quintessential profile of the evidence-destroying defendant.

And even the most casual observer of the Russia investigation would know Stone has been anticipating an indictment for months and rare activity at the grand jury the afternoon before confirmed for a CNN reporter that a Friday arrest of Stone was likely in store.

But Stone himself was true to form, describing the FBI’s conduct as “unconscionable,” insisting his treatment was worse than that of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by Navy SEALs Seals. “I’m 66 years old, I do not own a gun, I do not have a valid passport, I have no prior criminal record, I’m charged with nonviolent process crimes,” he lamented.

Stone remains defiant and aggressive, openly campaigning for a pardon by insisting he will not cooperate with the special counsel and testify about Trump. He had already already convinced Trump of his fealty, as evidenced by this December tweet:

As that tweet raised questions about whether the president was witness tampering, Trump has toned down his Stone solidarity to say he may have to review FBI practices and, telling the Daily Caller, he was “speaking for a lot of people that were very disappointed to see that go down that way. To see it happen where it was on camera, on top of it. That was a very, very disappointing scene.”

Was Graham one of those many disappointed people? His letter said he was “concerned about the manner in which the arrest was effectuated” and questioned whether “the usual procedures for obtaining and executing arrest and search warrants followed” for the arrest of Stone, who he noted was “willing to surrender voluntarily”.

The letter asks directly, and insinuates as well, about the possibility that Robert Mueller’s team leaked plans for the raid to CNN. “The American public has had enough of the media spectacle that surrounds the special counsel investigation. Yet, the manner of this arrest appears to have only added to the spectacle. Accordingly I write to seek justification for the tactics used and the timing of the arrest of Mr. Stone.”

Relishing the outrage nod from the president, Stone is now appealing directly to Graham, telling the right-wing site Big League Politics this weekend that the Judiciary Chairman should place a CNN contributor under oath over the presence of cameras at his property, and concluding with this trademark flourish: “This is an extraordinarily police-state oriented overreach, but I think it’s backfired badly on Robert Mueller and the deep state.”

This all seems a stretch, even for Graham, who has contorted himself from fierce Trump critic to vigorous ally and defender. Yes he has a Republican primary election in South Carolina to get through next year and much of what he Trumpsplains about and advocates for (dozens of immigrations compromises he and Jared come up with that go nowhere come to mind) can be interpreted through this prism. But of all things Graham would pick a fight with the FBI about, the Stone case seems a sketchy choice. It will be interesting to see how far Graham takes it.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.