In recent years, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has sometimes been a rare and surprising voice of reason among Republicans, unafraid to criticize Donald Trump and even denounce his racist rhetoric. But Graham's reasonable side has disappeared when it comes to considering the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
"From my view, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it just did," Graham tweeted Wednesday in response to the news that a third woman had accused Kavanaugh. "The lawyer to porn stars has just taken this debacle to an even lower level. I hope people will be highly suspicious of this allegation presented by Michael Avenatti."
\u201cFrom my view, just when you thought it couldn\u2019t get any worse, it just did. \n\nThe lawyer to porn stars has just taken this debacle to an even lower level. \n\nI hope people will be highly suspicious of this allegation presented by Michael Avenatti.\u201d
Avenatti, who indeed is representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in an unrelated case, today released an affidavit from Julie Swetnick, who said that when both she and Kavanaugh were in high school in the Washington, D.C., area in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh was present at parties where girls were drugged so they could be gang-raped. She was the victim of one such attack, she said, although she doesn't name Kavanaugh as a perpetrator. She did say she saw him "engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, 'grinding' against girls, and attempting to remove or shift girls' clothing to expose private body parts."
Graham released several other tweets on the subject, questioning why anyone would continue going to parties where this behavior was likely to happen and why they wouldn't report it. The tweets came before a fourth, anonymous accusation against Kavanaugh emerged Wednesday afternoon.
\u201cI have a difficult time believing any person would continue to go to \u2013 according to the affidavit \u2013 ten parties over a two-year period where women were routinely gang raped and not report it.\u201d
\u201cI very much believe in allowing people to be heard. \n\nBut I am not going to be played, and I\u2019m not going to have my intelligence insulted by the Michael Avenattis of the world. \n\nI will not be a participant in wholesale character assassination that defies credibility.\u201d
After the fourth accusation, by someone who claimed to have witnessed a drunken Kavanaugh physically assault a woman in Washington, D.C., in 1998, Graham excoriated NBC News for breaking the story.
"You wonder why we know about it? Because of NBC," Graham told Shannon Bream on Fox News Wednesday night. "To my friends at NBC, do you know why conservatives distrust you so much? It's because of stuff like this. You would never print an anonymous letter accusing a liberal nominee of wrongdoing. There's no journalistic integrity left when it comes to Trump and his nominees. The idea of an a report on an anonymous accusation and give it credibility says all you need to know about where our media is when it comes to Kavanaugh and Trump."
Graham said he had voted to confirm President Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, "I can't imagine me doing to them what y'all are doing to Kavanaugh," he told Bream. "I'm disgusted with it. I'm more committed to voting for Kavanaugh than ever. And all of these allegations, to me, just are falling apart."
Graham apparently had his mind made up to support Kavanaugh even before the third and fourth accusations came out. Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Earlier this week, Graham, who is a member of the committee, said, "What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation? I'm just being honest. Unless there's something more, no, I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this. But she should come forward. She should have her say. She will be respectfully treated."
"I will listen, but I'm not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life," Graham added. "'Cause if nothing changes, it won't with me." He also has defended Kavanaugh by saying he's no Bill Cosby, who was accused of multiple instances of rape and other sexual assaults and was sentenced this week in the only case for which the statute of limitations had not run out.
Graham's closed-mindedness "is, literally, the opposite of what we would want out of a senator sitting on the Judiciary Committee in a moment like this," CNN editor at large Chris Cillizza wrote in a commentary published Tuesday on the news channel's website. Cillizza said he could accept it if Graham said the accusations don't square with what he knows of Kavanaugh and that he understands the senator's desire to see a Republican president's Supreme Court nominee confirmed.
"But, if the very people who hold in their hands -- and votes -- the power to make or break Kavanaugh's nomination are admitting publicly that almost nothing Ford says will change their mind, isn't that the sort of rank partisanship that has gotten us into this morass in the first place?" Cillizza wrote.
And Graham has sometimes risen above partisanship. While he is solidly conservative on most issues, including LGBTQ rights, when Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender and a Republican, Graham avoided transphobic rhetoric and welcomed her into the party.
"If Caitlyn Jenner wants to be safe and have a prosperous economy, vote for me. ... I haven't walked in her shoes," Graham, who was then seeking the Republican presidential nomination, told CNN's Dana Bash in 2015. "I don't have all the answers to the mysteries of life. I can only imagine the torment that Bruce Jenner went through. I hope he's -- I hope she has found peace. I'm a pro-life, traditional marriage kind of guy, but I'm running to be president of the United States. If Caitlyn Jenner wants to be a Republican, she is welcome in my party."
His comments came before the Supreme Court's pro-marriage equality ruling in late June 2015, but Graham said in the same interview that despite his support for what he called "traditional marriage," he would accept the court's decision.
After Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, Graham declined to support him. He condemned Trump for pandering to racism in his remarks about Mexican immigrants and others, although he said he doesn't believe Trump is racist.
"I think his comments were racist," Graham told MSNBC's Hallie Jackson in 2016. "I don't think that Donald Trump personally is a racist person. You know he's not going to refuse to hire someone because of the color of their skin or their background. But he's playing the race card."
And since Trump became president, Graham hasn't held back with his criticism. After Trump's joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, Graham called it a "missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections."
He was careful not to accuse Trump of colluding with Russia, but later, he implied that Trump lacked the skills to collude. "I say this as a joke, but it's kind of a half of a joke," Graham told reporters in August. "To collude, you got to sit down, come up with a plan, and stick with it. Trump's not good at that."
The same month, he said he was willing to work with Trump, but "when he's wrong, I will say so." The remark came in a CBS interview where he also said, "It bothers me greatly when the president says things about John McCain. It pisses me off to no end, and I let the president know it." Sen. McCain, who had just died, was a close friend of Graham's and a target of Trump's. During his presidential campaign, Trump had famously questioned McCain's status as a war hero because he had been captured.
But Graham appears all too willing to join in Trump's unyielding support for Kavanaugh. "Graham is not someone who has been an inflexible partisan in his time in the Senate," Cillizza wrote, and he has sometimes gotten in trouble with his constituents for that. "But," Cillizza continued, "his comments about Kavanaugh are a break from that reputation. To assume that nothing you hear -- especially when it comes to testimony from a woman speaking about an alleged sexual assault -- could possibly change your mind is the opposite of the person Graham has, largely, been in the Senate. Which is surprising. And disappointing."