Lindsey Graham slammed the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump while claiming the White House policy towards Ukraine was so “incoherent” that the administration could not have formed a quid pro quo even if it tried.
The South Carolina Republican described the impeachment as “sour grapes and politically driven” when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, calling the process “a sham” and the investigation “manufactured”.
“What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo”, Mr Graham said.
He added: “I find the whole process to be a sham and I'm not going to legitimise it.”
Mr Graham has served as one of the president’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, consistently defending Mr Trump against accusations he withheld crucial military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into one of his 2020 political rivals, Joe Biden.
But in a rare departure from his normal talking points late last month, the conservative said he would be open to impeachment proceedings if there was, in fact, evidence of a quid pro quo.
“If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Mr Graham told Axios on HBO at the time.
Mr Graham appeared to have a new possible talking point by Wednesday, however, suggesting that Mr Trump’s administration was not organised enough in its efforts surrounding US-Ukraine policy to develop a quid pro quo.
"I think the whole thing's a crock”, he said, adding: “This whole theory of impeachment, the process is illegitimate, is outside the norm, this substance I find unpersuasive."
The US House of Representatives launched the impeachment probe following a whistleblower complaint from an anonymous senior member of the US intelligence community detailing concerns about a 25 July phone call Mr Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The White House released a memorandum of the call shortly after it was reported in which Mr Trump can be seen requesting Mr Zelensky to “do us a favour”.
Key impeachment witnesses who listened to the call and worked under Mr Trump on US-Ukraine relations said they believed the White House was withholding the crucial aid pending a public statement from Mr Zelensky that Ukraine was investigating the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden.
The White House was also reportedly seeking Ukraine to launch an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe led by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The president has long claimed without evidence that Ukraine was behind 2016 election interference in support of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, rather than the Kremlin, which the US intelligence community has found conspired in the election in support of Mr Trump.
Mr Graham said on Wednesday the closed-door impeachment proceedings “should be made public” and that “the whistleblower's claims cannot be used as a basis” for criminal accusations or impeachment “based on anonymity”.