Sen. Lindsey Graham on Thursday had a stern message for the one person who was not in attendance during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing — President-elect Donald Trump.
The South Carolina Republican might have been asking questions to the intelligence officials there to testify about Russia's meddling in the election, but he proffered just as many answers to Trump.
"I want the president-elect to know it's OK to challenge the Intel, you're right to do so," Graham said during the hearing. "But what I don't want you to do is undermine those who are serving our nation in this arena until you're absolutely sure they need to be undermined. And I think they need to be uplifted, not undermined."
Graham peppered Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Chief Admiral Michael Rogers with questions, but often to get to a point he wanted to make.
- "So when it comes to espionage, we better be careful about throwing rocks. When it comes to interfering in our election, we better be ready to throw rocks."
- "Could it be Republicans in the next election? We're not so much better than Democrats at cyber security. I don't know what [Russia president Vladimir] Putin was up to, but I don't remember anything about Trump in the election."
- "Do you agree with me that the foundation of democracy is political parties, and when one political party is compromised, we're all compromised?"
Graham's denouement came with a line of questioning about North Korea.
Graham asked, "So when the North Korean leader says they're close to getting ICBM, he's probably in the realm of truth?"
"He's certainly working aggressively to do that," Rogers responded.
"If the president of the United States says it won't happen, he's going to have to come to y'all to figure out how far along they are, because you will be his source for however along we are, right?" Graham asked.
Rogers and Clapper both responded, "I hope we would be the source."
"I hope (Trump) would talk to you, too. Here is what I hope he realizes, that if he has to take action against North Korea, which he may have to do, I intend to support him, but he needs to explain to the American people why. One of the explanations he'll give is, 'Based on what I was told by the people who are in the fight.' And let me tell you this: You don't wear uniforms but you're in the fight. And we're in a fight for our lives. …
"I wish we were not here. If it were up to me, we would all live in peace. But Putin is up to no good and he better be stopped. And Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people, you can be skeptical, but understand, they're the best among us, and they're trying to protect us," Graham finished.
After a few-second pause, Graham's friend and committee chair Sen. John McCain asked Clapper, "Do you have any response to that diatribe?"
"Sen. Graham and I have had our disagreements before, but I find myself in complete agreement with what he said," Clapper said.
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