U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has responded to President Donald J. Trump’s criticism of the media, calling a free press and independent judiciary “the backbone of democracy.”
“They’re worth fighting and dying for,” the South Carolina Republican told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning.
Graham also defended Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who recently told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the suppression of a free press typically leads to a dictatorship. “That’s how dictators get started,” McCain said. “They get started by suppressing free press, in other words, a consolidation of power.”
Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that while America isn’t becoming a dictatorship any time soon, McCain “was right to say that we need as politicians to understand the role of the press and jealously guard it.” However, Graham also voiced his concerns about the media.
“I would say this to the American press corps: When it comes to Trump, you’re over the top,” Graham said. “Every president’s had problems with the press. You need to do your job, but from a Republican point of view, I think the coverage against President Trump has been almost to the point of being hysterical.”
Graham, who was in Germany on Sunday for the Munich Security Conference, praised Vice President Mike Pence’s speech in Munich, where he told European leaders that the United States supports NATO and praised Britain’s decision to exit the European Union.
“Pence’s speech was terrific. We’re going to be more involved in NATO, not less. We’re going to have more troops supporting our friends in Europe against aggression by Russia, so I think they feel much better after hearing Vice President Pence and Mattis,” he added.
On Saturday, Pence said the U.S. is going to “hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground.”
Graham urged the Trump administration to issue strong sanctions against Russia, who has become “more aggressive” since the November election, and continue to help the Baltic states, where U.S. military forces are currently training local troops to prepare for a possible Russian invasion.
“Russia has interfered in every democracy in their backyard. They’re coming after the French and the Germans … They tried to interfere in our election even though they didn’t change the outcome,” Graham said. “It is now time to punish Russia for trying to break the backbone of democracy for interfering in our election and my goal is to put sanctions on Russia based on interfering in our election on President Trump’s desk.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released a declassified assessment that reveals “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” with the specific goal of harming Hillary Clinton’s “electability and potential presidency.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. That includes former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned earlier this month after it was revealed that he misled Pence and other White House officials about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Former and current White House officials told several news outlets last week that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with Kislyak in late December, weeks before Trump’s inauguration.
Officials said Flynn didn’t discuss classified information during the conversation, which was captured on a routine wiretap. However, Flynn told Kislyak that the Trump administration would likely adopt a more accommodating approach to sanctions.
“Congress needs to be informed of what General Flynn actually said to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions. Did he say anything at all or is this just being spun by the media?” Graham said earlier this month.
Trump, who was previously skeptical of Russia’s interference in the election, admitted there was a credible cyber threat from “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” after reviewing a classified version of the intelligence assessment last month. However, Trump remained adamant that it had no effect on election results.
Graham told CBS that Trump has “never shown any real willingness” to condemn Russia. “If we forgive and forget about what Russia did in our own election, we’ll invite aggression in the next election by Chinese and the Iranians.”
Graham praised the administration’s recently appointed cabinet members. “Here’s what I’m feeling better about: the people around President Trump. His Cabinet is terrific in terms of quality: Mattis, Tillerson, General Kelly … We need to get a good national security advisor. Reince Priebus, I’ve known him for years, he has a good relationship with the Hill.”
“He’s got a good team around him, they have stumbled. But let’s just wait and see what this year holds,” Graham said.