Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused President Barack Obama of being "AWOL on the face" of Russian aggression, and Thursday called on President-elect Donald Trump to take a tough stance on President Vladimir Putin as evidence mounts about his push to interfere in the presidential election.
He also said it would be "very hard" for him to vote to confirm Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson if he does not support new sanctions against Russia for its activities.
"Whatever their motives were, I don't care," Sen. Graham told host Bill Hemmer on Fox News' "America's Newsroom." "We can't tolerate it. If you let the Russians get away with it, I hope Trump takes on China and Iran, [because] they are capable of doing the same thing."
Russia's actions are not unique to the United States, Graham said, as "they are up to no good all over the world, trying to destabilize democracy."
And in the United States, where information was hacked and released from the emails of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta, and from the Democratic National Committee, and information that was released was unfavorable to Clinton only, there is just one motive for the crime, Graham said.
"I don't know what their motives were other than create discontent and discord and undermine democracy," Graham said. "I'm not challenging the election results. Donald Trump won the election. There's no defense that they tried to change how ballots were cast, the Russians. They may be doing that in other places and even here."
However, Graham is concerned if a push back is not made about the hack-and-release actions, "we are inviting the Chinese and Iranians to hack us when Trump gets tough with them," Graham said.
Trump has asked why it took Obama so long to act upon the information, and Graham said he would like to know the same thing.
"There would be no strong Putin without a weak Obama," Graham said. "Why didn't the president act? Why didn't he act when [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad crossed the red line? He's been weak in the face of dictators all over the world."
That leaves Trump with a dilemma, Graham said — what will he do?
"If you don't believe that the Russians were involved in interfering with our election, then I'm troubled by that because I have been briefed," the senator said. "I don't think anybody who has heard the briefings doubt that the Russians were interfering in our election. Whatever their motives were, I don't care. We can't tolerate it."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed Monday that Trump knew about the hacking scheme, as he had called on Putin to track down Clinton's emails, and Graham said Thursday he never "particularly liked that."
However, the election was not decided "by the elites from WikiLeaks," but because Clinton was "a lousy candidate, not representing change."
But Russia "did hack into political systems in the United States," Graham said, "and they're doing it all over the world."
"If Trump doesn't push back, they're going to keep doing it and the Russians — excuse me, Iranians and Chinese are going to size us up, and I've had eight years of weak," Graham said. "I don't want four more years of weak."
Meanwhile, Graham said he believes Tillerson to be a "good decent man" who is highly respected, but he wants him to be briefed by the FBI and the CIA about Russia, and then to come forward to say if he believes Russia interfered with the American elections or in other democracies.
"If you say they are not, I will be troubled by your judgment," Graham said. "If you say they are, what are we going to do about it? We should sanction Putin as an individual and his inner circle, because this could not have happened without his blessing."
Graham said Tillerson did not favor sanctions before, because they were bad for Exxon Mobil, where he is the CEO.
"I'm glad we did sanction Russia, and we need to sanction them again," Graham said.
But if Tillerson does not support new sanctions, Graham said it would be "very hard to vote for him" as secretary of state, as he would be giving a "green light to this behavior."
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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