WASHINGTON — American justice is in crisis: Civil rights demonstrators fill the streets, most Americans say law enforcement is discriminatory, and, in front of the White House, the attorney general orders federal police to trample the constitutional rights of peaceful demonstrators.
This would be a good time for the august members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect the Constitution they swore to uphold.
Instead, committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., convened his panel this week to launch yet another investigation into the Obama administration.
Who cares about the virus, economic collapse and unrest? President Donald Trump has said he wants Graham to investigate the investigation into Russian election interference, and Graham complied. With party-line votes, he circumvented decades-old rules to give himself unilateral power to issue subpoenas to Trump’s favorite villains: John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Nellie and Bruce Ohr, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, John Podesta, Susan Rice and more.
Graham made perfectly clear his motive: vengeance. “Comey and McCabe and that whole crowd — their day is coming,” he vowed at the hearing Thursday. He declared Robert Mueller “off script” and he proposed alternatives for Russia-probe investigators: Either people “need to be fired, they need to be disciplined,” or “they are good candidates to go to jail.”
“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” he decreed. In fact, getting to the bottom of the FBI’s actions four years ago is what Graham called his “promise [to] the American people.”
That’s his promise?
That very day, markets plunged 6% after the Federal Reserve said millions have lost jobs permanently. While the pandemic resurges and racial unrest roils the country, Trump speaks up for Confederate symbolism and floats bizarre conspiracy theories. The defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disavow the White House’s crackdown on the First Amendment.
But by all means, let’s talk about Hillary’s emails.
“The committee has never received any emails from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign even though we repeatedly asked for them,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, complained at Thursday’s session. He then traveled memory lane, from Fusion GPS to the Steele dossier, to alleged “Russian collusion” by the Clinton campaign. “What did Hillary Clinton know about the dossier and when did she know it?” Grassley demanded.
Let’s do the time warp again.
Never mind that the Justice Department’s inspector general has already issued a 478-page report on the matter. Never mind that the Senate passed a bipartisan bill adding more safeguards to future investigations, but Trump has blocked it. Never mind that Attorney General William Barr assigned a friendly prosecutor for an election-season investigation of the investigators.
Graham is so singularly focused on delivering for Trump that he blocked Democrats from adding to the subpoena list past or current Trump advisers Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone and anybody else whose testimony might shift the focus from Obama. Republicans even shot down a request for the unredacted Mueller report.
The committee will hold a hearing this week about “Police Use of Force and Community Relations” without specific legislation (South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the Senate’s lone black Republican, is working on that). Graham brushed off Democrats’ request to have Barr at that hearing, saying Barr “will come before this committee” at an unspecified time.
Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., tried to amend Graham’s authorization to say the subpoenas must wait “until the committee has conducted a hearing to investigate the conduct of Attorney General Barr.”
“Not relevant,” Graham said.
Harris and Booker also tried an amendment postponing subpoenas until the Senate acts on legislation addressing “discriminatory policing.”
“Move to table,” Graham said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., requested an amendment condemning Barr “for ordering federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the people of the United States who were peaceably protesting in Lafayette Square.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., objected to condemning Barr “before we know what we don’t know.” (In other words: No Barr testimony, and no condemning Barr because there’s been no Barr testimony.)
Democrats howled. “Never has a chairman devoted the full weight of the committee’s resources to pursue a partisan investigation after being prompted by a presidential campaign,” protested Sen. Pat Leahy (Vt.).
“For the past two weeks, this committee has devoted countless hours to chase after a conspiracy theory,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii).
But Graham had none of it, delivering a jeremiad about Mueller, Christopher Steele and the dossier. “You are trying to stop me from doing something I think the country needs to do, and I’m not going to be stopped,” he said. “It appears that you want to talk about everything except what we should be talking about.”
Right. A deadly pandemic, an economic collapse and a crisis of American justice. But what “the country needs” is to hear from Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.