Lindsey Graham’s Kyiv Adventure Shows GOP Split On Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as they walk through the Senate Subway to participate in a vote on the Senate Floor at the U.S. Capitol Building on Novembe... WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as they walk through the Senate Subway to participate in a vote on the Senate Floor at the U.S. Capitol Building on November 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. Senators held a procedural vote to move forward with legislation protecting same-sex marriages known as the Respect for Marriage Act, which now is expected to have a final vote after the Thanksgiving holiday. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went to Kyiv last week, and ended up on a Russian government wanted list.

It’s a bizarre international incident which involves a misleadingly edited video and Ukrainian attempts to shore up U.S. support for the country’s effort to resist Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Graham met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. Afterwards, the Ukrainian government released a video of the senator’s visit, which included a clip of Graham seemingly bragging that Russians “dying” thanks to U.S. aid was “the best money we’ve ever spent.”

That clip, as it turns out, was edited in such a way as to connect the two ideas — the “best money” remark was actually from a different part of the conversation, not referring directly to Russians “dying.” Watch the edited version, posted by a pro-Russian Twitter account, here:

The clip enraged Russian officials, with former President Dmitry Medvedev telling Graham to “remember” the assassinations of RFK, Huey Long, and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney at the 2015 Charleston Church shooting.

A different edit — posted by Reuters — shows a fuller version of Graham’s remarks about “the best money,” indicating it was in response to Zelensky speaking about U.S. aid. The “Russians dying” remark came in a different part of the conversation.

That didn’t stop the Russians from being enraged at the senator, with the country saying that it would issue a warrant for Graham’s arrest. Graham himself leaned into it, saying that the rage of Russian officials pleased him while offering to go on trial at The Hague if they agreed to as well.

The brouhaha comes as Ukrainians of various stripes express worry that Republican control of the House will make further military aid packages extremely hard to pass through Congress, and that Donald Trump potentially winning the 2024 presidential race could deprive Kyiv of aid entirely.

Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have been making very public and solicitous attempts to keep American support for their country’s military bipartisan. Zelensky emphasized the “bicameral and bipartisan support of Ukraine in the U.S. Congress” during Graham’s visit.

In a 313-word Memorial Day address to the American people, Zelensky used variations of the word “free” 13 times while saying “when we remember the warriors who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom, we recall the reason — why we are alive, why we live the way we like and why our free nations stand.” 

Graham himself, since returning from Kyiv, has bemoaned that his party is adopting what he calls the “Biden defense budget” in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, saying that the bill should include further support for Ukraine.

But the House Freedom Caucus, whose members provided Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) with the votes to become leader in January, have consistently said that they’re opposed to further support. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said this week that Trump would end the war in 24 hours, repeating Russian talking points which frame U.S. support as funding the conflict while absolving Moscow of any responsibility for invading.

Graham has declined to go beyond scolding his own party. A spokesman for the senator did not answer TPM’s questions about whether he discussed GOP Congressional support for Ukraine with Zelensky in Kyiv; he did refer TPM to Graham’s tweets about defense spending and the budget standoff.

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