The idea that President Donald Trump conspired with Russian interests to manipulate the 2016 election is ludicrous, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Sunday, simply because Trump has proven incapable of working smoothly even with his own team.
“He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong with the Russians and I tend to believe him,” Graham said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “He can’t collude with his own government. Why do you think he is colluding with the Russians?”
The line was reminiscent of other backhanded defenses Republicans have offered for Trump’s personal interference with investigations into contact between his team and Russian officials. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), for example, defended Trump from obstruction-of-justice claims by saying he’s simply “new at government” and didn’t know any better. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a less pithy but thematically similar quote about the need for staffers to bring Trump up to speed on the ethical lines governing his job.
Meanwhile, Trump himself previously criticized Democrats for appearing to have influenced then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch during investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email servers — a criticism predicated on the same ethical restrictions that Republican allies are now suggesting Trump doesn’t know about.
Nick Akerman, one of the men who helped prosecute the Watergate case, rejected the incompetence defense of Trump in a CNBC interview on Thursday.
“The idea that he is some kind of naive waif who doesn’t understand how Washington works or the criminal system [works] is absurd,” Akerman said — adding that “there’s no question that Trump was involved in obstruction of justice.”
Graham also suggested that Trump is personally obsessed with the Russia story to such a degree that it is hampering him from doing the job of president. He was particularly skeptical of Trump’s tweeted offer to come testify himself after fired FBI director James Comey’s appearance before Graham’s committee last week dominated the political media landscape.
“I think it’s inappropriate for the president to testify publicly. But if you’re so obsessed about it, I know you’re frustrated,” Graham said. “But Mr. President let’s don’t make a circus out of your presidency. If you want to come to the Judiciary Committee and testify under oath we will put Comey right by you.”
“It’d be the highest-rated TV show in the world,” Graham said, apparently in hopes of discouraging the former professional wrestling guest star and host of The Apprentice from continuing to offer his testimony. “But it’s not good for our democracy.”