Over the weekend, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and Donald Trump’s cartoon sidekick Lindsey Graham made a mess of things when he went on television and advised Donald Trump Jr to defy a subpoena from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr. Not only was Graham tampering with a witness, he was using his position in the government to instruct a witness to violate the law. Now Graham is suddenly changing his story.
Lindsey Graham is no longer publicly advising Donald Trump Jr to illegally ignore the subpoena, and is instead now publicly advising Trump Jr to show up and testify but plead the Fifth in response to every question. It would be legal for Junior to try this, under the argument that he fears he’ll be charged with perjury if he gives any answers at all to the Trump-Russia questions he’s already lied about under oath.
In such case the committee could still hold Trump Jr in contempt if he refuses to answer questions where he has no apparent legal liability, as the Fifth Amendment only applies to instances in which a witness fears his words will be used to build a criminal case against him. Under the law, pleading the Fifth is not considered an admission of guilt. But if Junior does invoke it, the committee could then make a criminal referral against him to the Department of Justice.
Attorney General William Barr would surely block any DOJ criminal investigation into Junior, but the case could remain on the books after Trump is gone from office, and Junior could then be prosecuted. In addition, if a Republican-controlled committee made a criminal referral against Trump’s son, or even if Trump’s son simply shows up and pleads the Fifth and then nothing else happens, it would be a political nightmare for Donald Trump.
But the real story at the moment is Lindsey Graham. He’s been spiraling completely out of control in recent months, to the point of using the F-word during live televised Senate hearings, contradicting himself, rambling incoherently, and saying things with zero legal basis. Now it sounds like someone in Graham’s circle has managed to convince him to back away from encouraging Trump Jr to violate the law. But Graham’s words are out there, and they’ll come back to bite him once the Trump nightmare is over.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report