Lindsey Graham faces backlash after claiming violence could break out if Trump prosecuted

President Biden appeared to single him out, asking, 'Where the hell are we?'

ByIsabella Murray via ABCNews logo
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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Some Republicans keep insisting that the DOJ's investigation into former President Donald Trump's handling of White House documents is just a politically motivated hit.

WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is facing backlash after claiming political violence will break out if former President Donald Trump is indicted for mishandling presidential records.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday, while not mentioning Graham by name, appeared to call him out at a political rally in Pennsylvania, saying, "the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying if such and such happens, there'll be blood in the street. Where the hell are we?"

Graham's comments came at a time when Trump supporters' threats against law enforcement have escalated following the Mar-a-Lago search and at least one man citing it attacked an FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was later killed by police.

Law enforcement officials told ABC News they were investigating social media posts apparently linked to the suspect that called for violence in the days after the FBI search.

MORE: Suspect in attempted break-in at FBI Cincinnati office dead after hours-long standoff, police say

During an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said there "will be riots in the street" if Trump faces legal ramifications for taking at least 184 classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office.

After months of the Justice Department and National Archives negotiating with Trump's legal teams to get him to return the documents, the FBI executed a search warrant on Aug. 8 at Mar-a-Lago. But since then, Graham and many other Republicans have argued that Trump is facing a double standard from how the DOJ treated Hillary Clinton.

Specifically, Clinton, Trump's 2016 Democratic rival for president, was not charged after probes into her use of a private email server containing classified information while she was secretary of state.

The two cases are not the same, however. In both cases, the FBI launched criminal investigations, obtaining search warrants to obtain or access relevant documents. But in Clinton's case, the FBI said in findings released in July 2016, the classified information had been improperly transmitted via carelessness, not in an attempt to circumvent the law.

The caliber of "classified information" found on Hillary Clinton's private servers was not the same as what was found at Mar-a-Lago, particularly as it relates to highly-sensitive Special Access Programs. According to the Department of Justice's report on the Clinton case, investigators found seven email chains on Clinton's servers that were "relevant to" and "associated with a Special Access Program, while it appears Trump was keeping SAP materials themselves at Mar-a-Lago.

SEE ALSO: Justice Department alleges Trump legal team obstructed investigation into classified documents

Trump's case is ongoing, but an unsealed search warrant and property receipt from the FBI raid confirmed that the former president took properly marked classified documents from the White House.

Experts have said it's highly unlikely that the Justice Department would have pursued such a search warrant without significant evidence. "The department does not take such a decision lightly," Garland said during the press conference following the FBI search.

"If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hilary Clinton set up a server in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street. I worry about our country," Graham said to Fox News host and former South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy. Later in the program, Graham repeated the threat of violence again.

Graham again doubled down on his earlier remarks in Charleston on Monday, again likening Trump's FBI search to the probe into Clinton, saying: "America cannot live with this kind of double standard. I thought what she did was bad, but she got a pass at the end of the day."

Using less inflammatory language, he said that that there would be many "upset people" if Trump was prosecuted. "I reject violence. I'm not calling for violence. Violence is not the answer, but I'm just telling you," he said.

Despite growing evidence against the former president, Trump and allies like Graham have repeatedly accused the Justice Department of being biased against him.

TIMELINE: DOJ's criminal inquiry into Trump taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago

The Justice Department on Friday made public the redacted affidavit that supported the search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. The affidavit outlines months of interactions between the National Archives and Records Administration and Trump's team to secure the return of records that were improperly taken from the White House.

"Most Republicans, including me, believes when it comes to Trump, there is no law. It's all about getting him. There's a double standard when it comes to Trump," Graham said.

Trump posted a video clip of Graham's comments on his Truth Social media platform but without comment.

Asked for a response to Graham's comments Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "we have seen MAGA Republicans attack our democracy. We have seen MAGA Republicans take away our rights, make threats of violence, including this weekend ..."

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., tweeted on Monday about Graham's remarks in contrast to the legislative victories that Democrats have seen throughout the summer.

"We are fighting for relief from prescription drug costs for Seniors, relief from inflation for working-class families, relief from mass shootings for parents, relief from the climate crisis for farmers. Republicans like @LindseyGrahamSC are promising riots," he tweeted.

The Washington Post editorialized, "There is no excuse for this irresponsible rhetoric, which not only invites violence but also defies democratic norms."

SEE ALSO: Trump search: What may come next in inquiry with legal peril

A new joint intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News confirms that the FBI has seen an uptick in threats and acts of violence, including armed encounters, to its agents and law enforcement since their search of Trump's Florida home.

Since the search, the FBI and DHS have identified multiple articulated threats and calls for the targeted killing of judicial, law enforcement, and government officials associated with the Palm Beach search, including the federal judge who approved the Palm Beach search warrant, according to the bulletin.

Graham has been a staunch defender of the former president, despite briefly breaking with Trump right after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

He's currently resisting a grand jury probe into potential election interference in Georgia, fighting a subpoena to testify in connection with the investigation into Trump's alleged effort to intimidate Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other state officials into overturning his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden, asking Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to ensure his victory.

Graham had recently hired former president Trump's first White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to be part of his legal team.

The probe is led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who subpoenaed Graham in July. In fighting the order, Graham has argued, among other things, that he was acting "within [his] official legislative responsibilities" as a senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee when he allegedly made calls to Georgia officials in the wake of the 2020 election.

On Monday, new court filings from the Fulton County District Attorney's office blasted the temporary subpoena block granted to Graham by a federal appeals court. The motion mentions that the strength of Trump and Graham's relationship weakens the senator's push against testifying.

"Senator Graham's repetition of his previous arguments does not entitle him to partial quashal, and the District Attorney respectfully requests that his motion be denied," Donald Wakeford, Fulton's chief senior assistant district attorney, wrote in a motion filed on Monday.

The Fulton County DA's response comes after Graham told Gowdy on Sunday that he's got a "good legal case" against testifying before a grand jury.

"If we let county prosecutors start calling senators and members of Congress as witnesses when they're doing their job, then you've got out of kilter our constitutional balance here," Graham said about the probe on Sunday to Gowdy.

"I've got a good legal case, I'm going to pursue it .... You love the law, I love the law. I've never been more worried about the law and politics as I am right now. How can you tell a conservative Republican that the system works when it comes to Trump?"

ABC News' Aaron Katersky, Olivia Rubin and Will Steakin contributed to this report.