One week after the 2020 election was called, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was thinking about Georgia.
His newfound political patron, President Donald Trump, had narrowly lost the state. Now, on Nov. 13, 2020, Graham was speaking with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger about the result.
Graham peppered Raffensperger with questions, the Secretary of State told the Washington Post at the time, leading Georgia’s top election official to conclude that Graham wanted the state to throw out legally cast votes.
“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger told the paper.
Graham’s activities in Georgia are now under scrutiny by a Fulton County criminal grand jury, empaneled to investigate whether Trump and his allies broke any laws as they pressured state officials to overturn Biden’s win in 2020.
A state judge approved a grand jury subpoena to Graham on Tuesday, asking him to provide information about his calls to Georgia officials in 2020.
In a statement, attorneys for Graham said that he would fight the subpoena in court.
“As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Graham was well within his rights to discuss with state officials the processes and procedures around administering elections,” the statement reads.
That bluster notwithstanding, the subpoena raises critical questions about what precisely Graham did in late 2020 and early 2021 to help President Trump try to stay in office after losing the election.
The days after Trump’s loss
The story of Graham’s transition from Trump skeptic to Trump flunkie is well-known, but Graham reached the furthest into the abyss for Trump after the election.
With the major networks calling Trump’s loss on Nov. 7, 2020, the former President worked with advisers to cast doubt on the results and search for ways to overturn them.
But the state that apparently rankled Trump the most was Georgia, with Biden’s tight margin of victory and it’s GOP-controlled government and legislature.
The grand jury subpoena mentions two conversations that Graham had with Raffensperger in November in which the senator “explore[d] the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump.”
On Nov. 13, Raffensperger told the Post, he received a call from Graham.
During that call, Raffensperger said, Graham asked whether the Georgia secretary of state could throw out all the absentee ballots in counties that exceeded certain rates of nonmatching signatures.
Georgia had spent the run-up to the 2020 election embroiled in litigation over its exact match law which, before dying in 2019, allowed officials to toss out absentee ballots that lacked an exact signature match.
Graham apparently seized on that old law in his conversation with Raffensperger, also asking whether election workers’ politics were a factor when they chose which absentee ballots to accept.
Graham had already been stoking the creeping sense on the right that Trump’s loss in the election had not come as a result of the candidate, but because of dark forces at work in the country’s election system.
“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” Graham said in a Nov. 8 Fox News appearance.
January 6 and beyond
The grand jury subpoena cites the two calls that Graham made to Raffensperger in November 2020 as well as conversations that the senator had with the secretary of state’s staff over that time period.
“During the telephone calls, the Witness questioned Secretary Raffensperger and his staff about reexamining certain absentee ballots cast in Georgia,” the subpoena reads.
Less is known about what other calls Graham purportedly had with Raffensperger and his staff.
We may, however, have Graham to thank for what we know about later events in Trump’s pressure campaign on Georgia.
When Trump himself called Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021 and demanded that the Georgia official “find” him enough votes to win the state, staff in Raffensperger’s office decided to record the call in part because of experiences they had already had with Graham.
“This is a man who has a history of reinventing history as it occurs,” one unnamed Raffensperger adviser told Politico Playbook on Jan. 4, 2021, referring to Trump. “Lindsey Graham asked us to throw out legally cast ballots. So yeah, after that call, we decided maybe we should do this.”
After Jan. 6, the Fulton County DA opened an investigation into the attempts to interfere in the election. The probe reportedly began to examine Graham’s involvement in February 2021.
Raffensperger testified before the grand jury last month, as dozens of witnesses go before the body.
Graham has maintained that he did nothing unlawful on his calls with Raffensperger, with his attorneys reiterating that they’ll fight the subpoena.
It comes after years protecting Trump through multiple investigations. Now, he’s hired attorneys in a bid to save him from having to testify about what he did in 2020 and who he did it for.
“Should it stand, the subpoena issued today would erode the constitutional balance of power and the ability of a Member of Congress to do their job,” Graham’s lawyers’ statement reads.