Lindsey Graham is on a rampage. A Grahampage?
The senior Republican Senator from South Carolina has swiftly transformed from Robin to the Batman of the late John “conscience of the Senate” McCain into a barking mad defender of Donald Trump’s policy goals. His slide from Trump critic to Trump lackey has been happening quietly for a while. Graham, who once called Trump a “jackass,” has become one of his closest foreign policy advisers. As rumors of war with North Korea began rumbling before the June opening to the Hermit Kingdom, Graham was one of the most hawkish confidants whispering in Trump’s ear, according to Bob Woodward.
But the weird Trump-Graham bromance goes beyond foreign policy. The rumble in the Senate over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has made it unmistakable.
During the September 27th Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to gather testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, Graham went berserk in defending Trump’s nominee and attacking Democratic colleagues.
Then, on October 2nd, Graham really went nuclear, threatening a yawning breach of democratic norms if Kavanaugh’s nomination fails:
“I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court very soon,” Graham said. “However, if his nomination were to fall short, I would encourage President Trump to re-nominate Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It would — in effect — be appealing the Senate’s verdict directly to the American people.”
Of course, Graham knows that Republicans have a good shot of keeping the Senate, despite a forecast “blue wave” in the House, just because of how daunting the Senate map is for Democrats. Forcing the issue again right before the election would electrify the race and likely get more Republicans to come to the polls. So it’s disingenuous to say that this would be putting it to the American people. Up until the Merrick Garland nomination, the norm has been that the American people decided how their representatives nominated judges in the previous election, not the next election.
This power play Graham suggests would be an unprecedented failure of the Constitution’s checks and balances–just so Trump can take another swing with his highly tainted nominee.
Graham’s behavior in the Senate hearings, and this “encouragement” to Trump to attack the Constitution and ramrod his deeply flawed judge through point to the possibility that Graham is not merely an adviser to the White House. He’s acting as Trump’s mouthpiece in the Senate. Both his and Kavanaugh’s angry tones were positively Trumpian. They seemed to be emulating the president in his viciousness of style, tone and substance. And this suggestion to renominate Kavanaugh sounds like something that Trump cooked up. Did Graham offer to put his name on it before floating it as a trial balloon to give Trump cover?
Clearly, Graham is in Trump’s pocket. So how did he get there?
Some have suggested that Russia has kompromat on Graham. I don’t deny that’s possible. But there is information in the public record that shows a blatant financial conduit from the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs to Graham’s coffers.
The single largest donor to Lindsey Graham’s doomed 2016 presidential run was Access Industries. The company paid $800,000 to Graham’s “Security is Strength” PAC and $32,000 to Graham’s campaign. Most of the other donors were conservative groups, banks, hedge funds, and defense contractors, all typical fare. But Access Industries was unique, and it was his number one supporter.
Access Industries is a multinational conglomerate focused on “natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, technology and e-commerce, and real estate sectors worldwide,” according to Bloomberg. It is privately owned by its founder, Leonard “Len” Blavatnik, who was born a Russian citizen in Soviet Ukraine. He lives in London and his company is based in New York City. According to Forbes, he is worth $17.8 billion, making him the third richest person in the UK and the 27th richest person in the world.
Blavatnik is deeply tied to the Russian oligarchy and top-level power structure in at least two ways that connect to the story of how Russia helped Trump become president.
In 2013, Blavatnik made $7 billion selling his share in Russian-UK joint petroleum company, TNK-BP. The buyer was Rosneft. That was after Russia, under the Vladimir Putin regime, nationalized Rosneft, making it a Russian state-owned asset. When the purchase was completed, Putin essentially became the wealthiest and most powerful oil baron in the world.
So, Blavatnik made Putin super-powerful, Putin paid Blavatnik a cool 7 billion, and Blavatnik paid Lindsey Graham $832,000 while he ran for president against Trump. Were they covering all their bases by funding multiple candidates? Or was Graham merely a foil? Meant to crowd out the field to give Trump breathing room and then bow out once Trump took off? Was the enmity between Trump and Graham during the election all an act?
The second connection is through Blavatnik’s media holdings. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Blavatnik and his fellow billionaire friend Viktor Vekselberg formed an investment group called Renova. Renova then joined with Alfa Group to form a conglomerate called AAR Ventures.
Alfa Group is a holding company privately owned by Russian and Israeli billionaire, Mikhail Fridman. Christopher Steele’s infamous MI6 dossier on Trump featured Fridman prominently. In 2017, Fortune argued that the dossier was believable because,
“The dossier paints a picture of a long-standing symbiotic relationship between Alfa Group and the Russian leader. More recently, the dossier claims, Alfa owners Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven have provided Putin with valuable information through their own network of business contacts in the U.S., valued particularly because of the conflicting signals Putin was getting from his diplomats and spies regarding the success of the alleged operation.”
Fridman’s “business contacts in the U.S.” could include Blavatnik, since Access Industries is based in New York.
In 2016, Slate reported on how investigators looked through Trump’s internet servers to find evidence that he had been hacked by Russia. Instead they found an odd electronic relationship. One server set up by Trump in 2009 would only allow communications from a small number of other servers.
“The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank [owned by Alfa Group].”
So Blavatnik’s support for Graham is a potential conduit of influence that would tie Graham to a Russian Trump-supporter who was possibly carrying on discussions with Trump that were meant to be secret.
Fridman also owns a controlling share of VimpelCom. That Russian telecommunications company has large-scale operations in Ukraine. It was in rapid decline when fighting broke out between Ukraine and Russia. However, VimpelCom survived, because it was bailed out with a huge investment made in 2014 by Renaissance Technologies.
American billionaire Robert Mercer owns Renaissance Technologies. He also owns the company formerly known as Cambridge Analytica. That is the notorious data company that illicitly acquired Facebook data on millions of users and used it to manipulate both the UK’s Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Mercer is also an owner of Breitbart and suggested to Trump that he hire rabid white nationalist Stephen Bannon in the opening days of his presidency.
To recap, the largest donation that Graham received in 2016 was from Blavatnik, who connects him to the Kremlin. Blavatnik’s money connects him to a Russian oligarch who was apparently pinging Trump’s secret server. It also connects him to the Russian-UK-American illegal data analytics and social media propaganda operation that helped get Trump elected. Far from being a legitimate Trump critic, Graham has been one of the offshoots of this democracy-strangling vine of corrupt influence from the very beginning.
Graham’s ferocious defense of Kavanaugh needs to be viewed in this light. Trump nominated Kavanaugh originally because of Kavanaugh’s history as a partisan hatchet man, and his expansive view of a Republican president’s executive power. But it could be that Trump isn’t the only one who wants a Supreme Court vote in his pocket because he’s worried about what the Mueller investigation might find. Lindsey Graham might have something to hide, too.
It has been speculated that Graham is “angling” to be the next Attorney General of the United States if and when Trump fires Jeff Sessions. In August, Graham seemed to telegraph his blessing for Trump to replace Sessions. He said that any new attorney general would have to let “Mueller … finish his job without political interference.” If Trump moves toward replacing Sessions, we should be very skeptical that this is what Graham actually believes.
Featured image via CNN YouTube screencapture