SC's Graham says he orchestrated Trump-Woodward interviews

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FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2020 file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, stands onstage with President Donald Trump during a campaign rally, in North Charleston, S.C. Jaime Harrison has raised more money than his Republican opponent, Sen. Lindsey Graham, two quarters in a row. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of President Donald Trump's top congressional allies, is denouncing an implication floated by a Fox News personality that he intended to sabotage the president by setting up a series of revelatory interviews with journalist Bob Woodward.

During an interview Thursday, the South Carolina Republican confirmed to The Associated Press that he had helped orchestrate an initial meeting between Woodward and Trump that ultimately led to Woodward’s upcoming book “Rage.”

Excerpts released Wednesday reveal the president's concerns about the coronavirus earlier this year, even as he said he publicly “wanted to always play it down” so as to minimize panic.

“I think it’s pretty absurd to believe that President Trump did something he didn’t want to do because of me or anybody else,” Graham said of the meeting, which would ultimately lead to 18 conversations between Woodward and Trump. “I have more confidence in the president than Tucker Carlson does."

On Wednesday, Carlson suggested that Graham is a false supporter of Trump, rhetorically asking his viewers why Graham — as a Republican — would have set up such a meeting. He then listed myriad times in which Graham spoke out forcefully against Trump, going back to the 2016 campaign, during which they both competed for the GOP presidential nomination.

Graham “passionately opposed virtually every major policy initiative that Donald Trump articulated when he first ran, from ending illegal immigration, to pulling back from pointless wars, to maintaining law and order at home,” Carlson said.

“Lindsey Graham was against all of that, more than many Democrats,” Carlson added. “So maybe you already know the answer.”

Graham — who has since become a stalwart ally and frequent golf partner of the president — said he supported Trump’s decisions, brushing off Carlson's critique that any blame for fallout or negative reaction to the publication should be laid at his feet and denying any nefarious intent.

Book excerpts were released Wednesday, as well as taped conversations between Woodward and Trump. In one from March, Trump said of the virus, “I wanted to always play it down.”

Graham, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, has in the past fielded challenges from the right from critics alleging he isn’t conservative enough or works too much with Democrats.

On MSNBC on Wednesday, Jaime Harrison, Graham’s Democratic opponent this fall, said he wasn’t concerned about any role Graham may have played in setting up a “bad interview” with a journalist but questioned why more wasn't done earlier to tamp down the pandemic, which thus far has killed more than 190,000 Americans.

“Lindsey was in the room when one of the interviews took place,” Harrison said. “Did Lindsey know the federal government was downplaying the virus?”

On Thursday, Graham told the AP he supported Trump’s handling of the pandemic response, in light of the facts revealed in the Woodward interview.

“The president’s actions were very forward-leaning,” Graham said. "And I think the fact he didn’t go out and scream, ‘We’re all going to die,’ is more than OK.”


Meg Kinnard can be reached at