Multiple administration officials say Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine to get dirt on political rivals. Graham wants to investigate a conspiracy theory instead.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter on Thursday demanding documents from the State Department as part of an investigation into a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden.
Graham, a fierce defender of Donald Trump, appears to have picked up the investigation Trump previously pressured Ukraine to launch. That pressure campaign is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.
In his letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Graham requested documents about Biden's interactions with Ukrainian officials in the spring of 2016 and made unfounded accusations that Biden may have acted inappropriately "to end a [Ukrainian] investigation of the company employing his son," Hunter Biden.
Graham's accusations have already been debunked repeatedly, including by Trump administration officials.
Just this week, Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, testified before Congress in a public hearing that the "allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and not credible." Volker had been called as an impeachment inquiry witness by committee Republicans, many of whom argued that it was fair for Trump to push for an investigation into Biden, one of his top 2020 political rivals.
It is illegal to solicit or accept election help from a foreign national, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Graham's conspiracy theory-based investigation is rooted in the baseless allegation that Biden pressured Ukraine to remove a corrupt prosecutor in 2016 as a way to protect Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, against a corruption probe. Biden's son Hunter was previously a board member with Burisma until April this year.
There is no evidence to support allegations that Biden acted improperly in calling for the prosecutor general in charge of the Burisma probe to be ousted, and both Ukrainian and U.S. officials have said there is no merit to the claim. As many have since noted, the Burisma investigation was in fact dormant when the prosecutor general was forced out on accusations he was slow-walking corruption probes, among other things.
Trump brought up that debunked conspiracy during a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asking the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden as well as a baseless conspiracy involving the Democratic National Committee servers.
Trump specifically believes Ukraine is in possession of those servers and has suggested the country may have been behind the 2016 election meddling. The U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly stated that Russia was in fact behind the interference efforts.
Multiple officials have also testified in recent weeks that Trump withheld critical aid to Ukraine and dangled the possibility of a White House meeting in order to secure investigations into Biden and the DNC.
Witnesses at the House impeachment hearings have repeatedly asserted that Biden was acting in accordance with U.S. policy when he pushed for the Ukrainian prosecutor to be ousted, which was consistent with the desires of many European countries and multilateral institutions.
In 2016, Republican senators even signed on to a bipartisan letter urging Ukraine to make reforms in the prosecutors office, in line with Biden's request.
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified Tuesday that there was no credible evidence to back up Graham's allegations that Biden acted inappropriately. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, also agreed that there was no evidence to support that claim.
Throughout the impeachment inquiry process, Republicans like Graham have repeatedly sought to change the narrative.
Initially, Graham said that he would be troubled if there was evidence Trump engaged in quid pro quo with Ukraine.
"If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing," Graham said in October.
On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, Trump's hand-picked ambassador to the EU and a man who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, told Congress that Trump had unequivocally engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Graham responded to that revelation by launching an investigation into Biden.
The Republicans used a similar playbook in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller's sprawling report, made public this past spring. That report detailed extensive ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as at least 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump.
Though Mueller ultimately declined to hand down indictments against Trump, whose refusal to cooperate fully with the special counsel hampered his team's efforts, he said he had only done so in accordance with Justice Department policy, which states that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.
Rather than address the serious misconduct laid out in the report, Republicans at the time demanded — and Attorney General William Barr ordered — an investigation into those who had investigated Trump's alleged misconduct.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.