President Donald Trump’s shocking comparison of the ongoing impeachment inquiry against him to a “lynching” provoked widespread condemnation from congressional members of both parties on Monday—with the notable exception of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told reporters on Capitol Hill that the investigation into Trump is “a lynching in every sense.”
“I think it’s pretty well accurate—this is a shame, this is a joke,” Graham told a gaggle of reporters on Monday morning. “This is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American. I’ve never seen a situation in my lifetime as a lawyer where somebody’s accused of a major misconduct who cannot confront the accusers, call witnesses on their behalf, and have the discussion in the light of day so the public can judge.”
Trump’s Monday morning tweet—in which he encouraged Republicans to “remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching”—is the latest escalation in the president’s increasingly hyperbolic reactions to the impeachment inquiry, which he has called a “coup,” a “scam” and, of course, a “witch hunt.”
Later on Monday, Graham doubled down on the comparison, calling the impeachment inquiry “literally a political lynching,” and accusing reporters of holding Republicans to a higher standard than Democrats.
Unlike Graham, most Republicans said the president’s word, which is strongly associated with the extrajudicial murder of black people in the Jim Crow South, was going too far.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the party’s number-two leader in the Senate, called the comparison “not appropriate in any context.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted that while “we can all disagree on the process, and argue merits… never should we use terms like ‘lynching’” to describe the constitutionally enacted process of an impeachment inquiry. “The painful scourge in our history has no comparison to politics, and @realDonaldTrump should retract this immediately. May God help us to return to a better way.”
Sen. Tim Scott, who represents South Carolina along with Graham and is one of two black Republicans in all of Congress, said that while he understands the president’s frustration, he himself would not describe the impeachment process as a lynching.
“There’s no question that the impeachment process is the closest thing to a political death row trial, so I get his absolute rejection of the process,” Scott told reporters on the Hill. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘lynching.’”
Other Republicans, repeating a similar tactic to other incidents in which the president tweeted something racist, sexist, or otherwise inflammatory, declined to comment or alleged not to have read Trump’s tweet at all. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declined to comment on whether the investigation amounted to a “lynching,” and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said that he wouldn’t comment until he’d seen the entire series of tweets.
Democrats, meanwhile, condemned both Trump’s remarks and Graham’s defense of them—even going to far as to accuse Graham of buckling under the pressure of presidential blackmail.
“Feels once again like Trump has something compromising on Lindsey to make him defend the indefensible,” tweeted Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).
Jamie Harrison, who is running to unseat Graham in next year’s election, tweeted that Graham “has turned his back on South Carolina values, and invited him to join him at the ground-breaking ceremony of the African-American Museum in Charleston “for a refresh on the painful history of lynching in our state.”
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley defended Trump’s use of the word.
“The president has used many words, all types of language, to talk about the way the media has treated him,” Gidley told reporters outside the White House, adding that Trump “wasn’t trying to compare himself to the horrific history in this country at all.”
Gidley then began talking about Trump’s work on bringing down unemployment “for the African-American community,” a common defense in past incidents when the president has engaged in racist attacks on his critics or political opponents.
Graham, a longtime defender of some of the president’s most appalling excesses, represents South Carolina, a state with a violent history of racial injustice. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal non-profit, an estimated 184 black people were the victims of lynchings in the state between 1877 and 1950. The number of those killed by white mobs in the Jim Crow South without the ability to confront accusers, call witnesses, and be tried by a jury of their peers tops an estimated 4,000 people.