Lindsey Graham hit with ethics complaint for allegedly trying to fix Georgia vote

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The complaint says Graham's contact with the Georgia secretary of state brought 'discredit and dishonor' on the Senate.

Three leading experts on government ethics filed a complaint against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday, accusing him of threatening American democracy.

In a formal letter addressed to Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the chair and vice chair respectively of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Claire Finkelstein, Richard Painter, and Walter Shaub requested an investigation into whether Graham inappropriately contacted state elections officials and urged the disenfranchisement of American voters:

We write to urge the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, to discuss his ongoing count of votes for the office of president. We further urge the committee to investigate whether Senator Graham suggested that Secretary Raffensperger disenfranchise Georgia voters by not counting votes lawfully cast for the office of president. Finally, your Committee should demand clarity as to whether Senator Graham has threatened anyone with a Senate investigation of the Georgia vote tally and or taken steps to initiate such an investigation.

Graham has been under fire this week after Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, charged that Senate Judiciary chair had asked whether Georgia could invalidate all of the mail-in ballots from counties with high rates of nonmatching signatures. Such a move would have thrown out many legally cast ballots.

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"It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road," Raffensperger told the Washington Post on Monday.

The letters' authors are lawyers and experienced authorities on ethics in government. Finkelstein is director and founder of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for Republican President George W. Bush, is a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School; and Shaub served as director of the United States Office of Government Ethics from 2013 to 2017, overseeing ethics for the federal government.

"For the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to suggest to a state Secretary of State that he refrain from counting lawful votes threatens the electoral process and damages representative democracy. The Senate Select Committee should investigate this matter and, if it finds Chairman Graham committed the alleged misconduct, seek an appropriate sanction or any other appropriate remedy," they wrote.

Even if your committee were to reject Secretary Raffensperger's allegation regarding the content of the communication, the conduct Senator Graham has admitted is deeply troubling. There can be no legitimate reason for the Judiciary Committee's chairman to call a top election official regarding an ongoing vote count. ... Making matters worse, according to the Washington Post's reporting, Senator Graham acknowledged the potential for his call to have intimidated the state official: "If he feels threatened by that conversation, he's got a problem." This flippant response about such serious charges is, itself, conduct unbecoming of a member of the Senate.

A spokesperson for Graham did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

But Graham told reporters on Tuesday that he had also contacted officials in Arizona and Nevada to ask about the "integrity of the election process." Graham's preferred candidate, Donald Trump, lost in all three swing states to President-elect Joe Biden.

The authors noted that this too was a likely ethical violation: "It is not clear why Senator Graham thought that claiming he repeated the alleged misconduct would serve as a valid defense."

In requesting that the Ethics Committee investigate the allegations, they concluded:

Secretary Raffensperger’s allegation describes extreme misconduct and abuse of senatorial authority. This alleged attempt by Senator Graham to throw the election for President Trump after the fact by encouraging the very fraud he purports to be investigating threatens the fabric of our nation by undermining the very thing that makes it a republic, our elections. Even if the committee believes only Senator Graham’s account, his call to the state election official during an ongoing vote count amounts to misconduct. These alleged acts committed by Senator Graham bring discredit and dishonor upon the Senate and constitute conduct unbecoming of a United States Senator.

According to the committee's website, its procedures for investigations indicate that it will now initiate a preliminary inquiry into Graham's alleged actions and determine if there is "substantial credible evidence which provides substantial cause for the Committee to conclude that a violation has occurred."

The penalties for such a violation could range anywhere from a private letter of reprimand to expulsion from the Senate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.