Is Lindsey Graham Playing Both Sides On DOJ Lawyers Fracas?

Is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) playing both sides on the “controversy” over Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantanamo detainees?

Yesterday, the South Carolina senator joined a growing chorus of conservatives in slamming a recent ad by Liz Cheney’s advocacy group that questioned the loyalties of seven DOJ attorneys who had previously represented Gitmo detainees. The ad, by Keep America Safe, referred to the lawyers as “the Al Qaeda Seven,” and asked “Whose values do they represent?”

Graham, who is currently a senior instructor at the Air Force JAG school, told Foreign Policy:

I’ve been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all. This system of justice that we’re so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer.

He said a similar thing to Politico:

A defense attorney who is making the government do their job regardless of the nature of the case is making this whole country a better place.

But Graham seemed to see the situation differently last November, when he joined other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee in signing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder which raised the issue in the first place. Referring to reports that some DOJ lawyers had previously represented detainees, the Republicans, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, asserted that the “apparent conflicts of interest by those crafting terrorism and detainee policies raise serious concerns that need to be addressed,” and demanded that Holder release the names of the lawyers.

As we’ve detailed, the ad from Keep America Safe was an attempt to follow up on an issue that the Senate Republicans had kicked off in that letter to Holder.

Graham’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to clarify the senator’s position. It’s possible to believe, of course, that lawyers who represented Gitmo detainees are making us safer, but also that it’s a conflict of interest for them to work at DOJ. But at the very least, asserting that these conflicts “raise serious concerns” sits uneasily with the notion that the lawyers are “making this whole country a better place.”

Graham — who during his time in the Senate has cultivated a reputation as an independent-minded conservative — is reported to be working to negotiate a deal with the White House which could lead to the closing of the Guantanamo facility, and to the Obama administration dropping plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court.

So it’s perhaps not hard to understand why he’d be eager to maintain good relations with the administration. Even at the cost of all but contradicting himself.

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