Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Saturday vowed to investigate President Donald Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of his phones during the election, saying he was "very worried" by the claims.
Speaking from Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina, Graham said he did not know whether or not Trump’s accusation — which the president presented, without evidence, in a tweetstorm Saturday morning — was true.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but if it is true, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate,” he said.
“The other side of the story, if the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant, lawfully, to monitor Trump’s campaign for violating the law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate,” he added.
A spokesman for Obama, Kevin Lewis, on Saturday said neither the former president nor White House officials ever ordered surveillance on a US citizen.
Sen. Graham told the crowd he was “very worried that our president is suggesting that the former president has done something illegally,” before adding that he would be “very worried if, in fact, the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign governments."
"So it's my job as a United States senator to get to the bottom of this. I promise you I will,” he said.
Graham said he believes "with all [his] heart and soul" that Russia did interfere with the 2016 election.
"It wasn't a 400-pound man sitting on a bed somewhere," he said, alluding to a previous comment by President Trump.
He asserted that Russian intelligence services "hacked into [John] Podesta's email," and vowed to “punish Russia for trying to interfere with our election."
To the Republicans in the audience, Graham said, “We should be as upset about this as any Democrat because an attack on one party by foreign power is an attack on all parties.”
As for the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia, Graham said, "I have no evidence personally that there are in any, but I will insist that the FBI be given full opportunity to look into this without political interference."
The senator also fielded questions ranging from the Affordable Care Act to policing from the boisterous crowd.
“I want to repeal and replace Obamacare because I think it’s broken,” Graham said amid continued boos from the audience.
When a public school teacher in the audience asked Graham why he voted for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the senator said he believed she would offer students different options in their education.
“I think we need a combination of alternatives for when schools fail,” he said.
“I thought she was qualified,” he said of DeVos, to an eruption of boos.
Resistance from heckling crowds at GOP town hall meetings has forced politicians to make the choice of engaging with angry civilians or avoiding the meetings altogether.
The town hall at Clemson on Saturday followed a slightly different protocol from previous events. In the beginning, questions for the senator were submitted ahead of time and read aloud by a moderator, but audience members were later given the microphone to ask candid questions.
Graham also commented on the liberal-majority makeup of the crowd, which shouted loudly at every mention of the ACA and the Keystone Pipeline.
“I didn’t know there were that many liberals, which is great. I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “You need to speak up more in South Carolina.”
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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