Over the years, we have attacked Lindsey Graham much more often than we have praised him. Paul, in particular, has taken Graham to task repeatedly. But Graham is no dummy, and now and then he comes through in the clutch, generally when his mentor John McCain is on the right side of an issue. That happened this morning on Meet the Press, when David Gregory asked Graham about Susan Rice, the Obama administration, and Benghazi. When he wants to, Graham can sound very much like a Republican:
GREGORY: We are back. Joined now by the man leading the charge against the Obama administration and U.N. ambassador Susan Rice on this issue of Benghazi, the senior senator from South Carolina, Republican Lindsey Graham. Senator, let’s get right into it. You’ve just heard the chairs of the Intelligence Committees on Benghazi. The bottom line point, did Director Petraeus call this terrorism from the get go? They say yes. They don’t understand why the administration didn’t call it the same two days later. How do you react?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC; Armed Services Committee): Well, I think one of the reasons that Susan Rice told the story she did, if the truth came out a few weeks before the election that our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, had been overrun by an al Qaeda sponsored or affiliated militia, that destroys the narrative we’ve been hearing for months that al Qaeda has been dismantled, bin Laden is dead, we’re safer. And Susan Rice just did not say it was a result of a mob spawned by a video like Cairo. She actually said on Face The Nation, “I want to remind the American people this president promised to go after bin Laden, refocus on al Qaeda. He got bin Laden. Al Qaeda has been dismantled.” And the truth of the matter is nothing could’ve been further from the truth, and the story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president, but disconnected from reality.
GREGORY: But let me just interrupt on that point. Let’s be–be very clear about what you’re saying because you also heard Senator Feinstein say unequivocally the notion that there was a cover-up or an attempt to mislead for political reasons is absolutely wrong. She says that it’s character assassination, the way you’re criticizing her, who–you believe the president of the United States sent his ambassador to the U.N. out to mislead the American people so that he could get some sort of political gain before the election? That’s the cover-up you–you’re accusing them of?
SEN. GRAHAM: No. I’m saying that the ambassador that had nothing to do with Benghazi–why would you choose someone who had nothing to do with Benghazi to tell us about Benghazi? That’s kind of odd. The president said, why pick on her? She didn’t know anything about Benghazi. She was the most politically compliant person they could find. I don’t know what she knew but I know the story she told was misleading. I don’t know why it was misleading. But let me put this in context. Would this White House mislead the American people about national security events? I think they might simply because when the bin Laden raid occurred, they leaked every detail about the raid. We have a Pakistani doctor in custody because he told about the role he played. The underwear bomber case where we stopped a plot in Yemen came out in the New York Times. They told us about how this administration stopped the cyber–the role of cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear program in three weeks. We heard a lot of details about classified information to make this president look good. So if they would leak classified information to make him look good, would they withhold information to prevent him from looking bad? I think you could say look at that. …
GRAHAM: [T]o say the intelligence community did a good job, what about the months before this attack? What about the rise of al Qaeda in Benghazi? What about the British ambassador closing the consulate in Benghazi because it was too dangerous for the British? What about the Red Cross leaving? What about all of the warnings come out of Benghazi? Did the CIA tell the president that Benghazi is falling into the hands of al Qaeda? And I blame the president more than anybody else. Susan rice is a bit player here. Was he informed of the June attack on our consulate where they blew a hole where 40 people could go through? Was he aware of the August 15th cable where Stevens was saying we can’t withstand a coordinated al Qaeda attack? There are 10 militia groups all over Benghazi. I blame the president for…
This is getting too hot for comfort, so Gregory steps in to try to prevent further damage to Obama:
SEN. GRAHAM: …making this a death trap. I blame the president for not having assets available to help these people for eight hours. We need a select committee not only to look at intelligence failures, but how could the Department of Defense not help these poor people for over eight hours and why did the Department of State for months ignore pleas for help?
The conversation turned to the potential nomination of Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State:
GREGORY: Senator, can Susan Rice be confirmed of Secretary of State if nominated by the president?
SEN. GRAHAM: I don’t know. You know, I’m deferential to the president’s picks. I voted for Kagan and Sotomayor. Senator Obama voted against John Bolton, Alito and Roberts. He had a very high bar for confirmation. I have a very low bar. I’m going to listen to what Susan Rice has to say, put her entire record in context, but I’m not going to give her a plus for passing on a narrative that was misleading to the American people…
GREGORY: You wouldn’t filibuster her nomination?
SEN. GRAHAM: …and whether she knew it was misleading or not. I’m going to wait and see what the State Department’s review has, but I’m very disappointed in Susan Rice, somebody who had nothing–who knew nothing about Benghazi, telling a story that was disconnected from reality that did make the president look good at a time when quite frankly the narrative should have been challenged, not reinforced that al Qaeda was dismantled. That’s what they wanted us to believe, that al Qaeda was dismantled, and Benghazi was exhibit A that that storyline was not working and was untrue.
Kudos to Lindsey Graham for that performance. As usual with Graham, the good was mixed with the bad. Like many Democrats and a few Republicans, Graham went on to criticize Mitt Romney for suggesting, after the election, that the Obama administration had spread around goodies to buy votes among its favored constituencies. Graham seemed to view this as a scandalous allegation, whereas, for anyone who has been paying attention, it is a succinct summary of the modus operandi and, in fact, the raison d’etre of the Democratic Party. Accusing the Democratic Party of buying votes with taxpayer money is like accusing Toyota of manufacturing automobiles. If I have time, I will get to that subject tomorrow. For now, let’s give Senator Graham one and a half cheers for his performance this morning.
PAUL adds: I call Lindsey Graham “the Arlen Specter of the South.” Like Specter, Graham is fond of reaching across the aisle to sell out conservatives, and doing so ostentatiously. Graham doesn’t stick it conservatives as much as Specter did; he couldn’t and still be elected in South Carolina. But for a Southern Republican, Graham is too cozy with liberal Democrats too often, and seems to enjoy it too much.
Graham resembles Specter in another respect — when he’s on our side, he’s a big asset. Specter demonstrated this during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings and, years later, during Samuel Alito’s. For his part, Graham has been an asset in debates about Iraq and Afghanistan over the years, for example.
So Graham’s interest in, and outrage over, Benghazigate is welcome. If he leads the Republican charge with his usual doggedness and flamboyance, I’ll supply the half of a cheer.