U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on August 05, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on Saturday defended suggesting there would be “riots in the streets” if former President Donald Trump was prosecuted for mishandling classified information, saying he condemned the violence seen during the Capitol riot last year.
“What I tried to do was state the obvious,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump, told CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the Ambrosetti Forum in Italy.
“Here's what I said, The raid on [former] President Trump's home, the likely nominee for 2024, better bear some fruit here,” he added. “If it's just about mishandling classified information, we've had a standard set when it came to Hillary Clinton.”
“Our country, the people on our side, believe that when it comes to the justice system, there are no rules regarding Trump, [it's a case of] ‘get him, it doesn't matter how you get him,' so I said that if it's similar to what happened to Clinton and he gets prosecuted, it'll be one of the most disruptive events in America,” Graham said.
Trump and his allies have argued that the FBI, which is investigating Trump for potential violations of laws related to espionage and obstruction of justice, is treating him differently than it treated Hillary Clinton, who was the subject of an FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while secretary of state, but wasn't prosecuted. Trump's critics argue that the two cases aren't comparable.
Graham said he rejected the violence seen on the Jan.6 Capitol riot and said “all those people who defiled the Capitol should go to jail” but said that any perceived unfairness toward Trump would have consequences.
“I don't want to pardon the January 6th people because that seems to reinforce the narrative that this is OK. I said something I really believe — if he does what she did with classified information and he gets prosecuted and she didn't it would create a problem.”
Graham said last week that there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump was prosecuted for mishandling classified information.
“I'll say this, if there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, after the Clinton debacle … there'll be riots in the streets,” Graham told Fox News' Trey Gowdy, a former Republican congressman.
Trump is currently under investigation and risks being indicted over his treatment of classified White House records that he took to his residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
Last week, the release of a heavily redacted affidavit showed how concerns about illegal activity and obstruction of justice led to an FBI search at Trump's resort in July.
Graham conceded that he believed in “handling classified information responsibly” but again insisted that “mishandling classified information is really bad but we can't have a system where one person gets prosecuted and the other doesn't.”
Asked whether Trump is the best person to represent the Republican Party in 2024, Graham said “I think he could be.”
“Whether you like Trump or not he was a consequential president … I think a strong American president, unpredictable, is a good thing as long as you keep it within the boundaries. His problem is personal, his policies have stood the test of time but has he worn the American people out in terms of his personality? Time will tell. But I'll say this, after the Biden presidency, if there's a policy debate in 2024, I like his chances. If it's a personality contest, he'll be in trouble.”
Graham said he talks to Trump “all the time” and that the former president still thinks that he was “cheated.” Graham said he voted to certify the 2020 election and that Biden is the legitimate president.
Trump “genuinely believes that the system was rigged against him and I said ‘Mr. President, I'm not trying to tell you to change your beliefs. I'm trying to tell you that you have no chance of winning in 2020 but you have a pretty good chance of winning in 2024 if you want to,'” Graham said, noting that he told Trump that if he does make a comeback “it will be one of the greatest political comebacks in American history.”
A federal judge on Thursday denied Graham's latest effort to challenge a subpoena for his testimony before a special grand jury in Georgia, which is investigating possible criminal election interference by Trump and his allies in 2020.
However, the judge limited the scope of the subpoena by ordering that Graham could not be questioned about phone calls he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff in the weeks after the November 2020 election between Trump and President Joe Biden.
It follows continued bids by Graham to avoid testifying on the grounds that his position as a lawmaker grants him immunity under the U.S. Constitution's “speech or debate” clause.
Graham reiterated his position on Saturday, saying “I didn't start this debate. You have a country prosecutor who has decided to investigate a national election and to call anybody and everybody connected with the role they played in the election. I'm a United States Senator, in our Constitution, we have a speech or debate immunity clause so that we can't be hauled into courts all over the country every time we do something somebody doesn't like.”
“I think the court is going to recognize that my activities as a United States Senator was covered by the speech and debate clause that that the county prosecutor's desire to bring me down to Georgia oversteps the constitution.”