“Sen. Lindsey O. Graham on Sunday said that if the Justice Department prosecutes former president Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, there will be “riots in the street.” A few minutes later, he said it again. There is no excuse for this irresponsible rhetoric, which not only invites violence but also defies democratic norms.
The comments the South Carolina Republican made on Fox News’s “Sunday Night in America” imply that there is no plausible case against Mr. Trump based on his taking sensitive White House documents to store, unsecured, at Mar-a-Lago. This has been a continuing suggestion from the right wing, usually paired with a comparison to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Yet already, differences between these cases are apparent, and more still could emerge: from the number of documentsimproperly kept, to the intentions behind keeping them, to the harm that holding this material could have done to national security. The possibility of obstructive behavior mentioned in the FBI affidavit unsealed last week can’t be discounted.
Because pursuing the investigation remains worthwhile, Mr. Graham’s comments are especially dangerous. His spokesman defended the interview to The Post as “predicting/forecasting what he thinks will happen.” But some predictions are also threats. And in this case, giving a forecast on national television might make it more likely that this vision of the future comes to pass. Mr. Trump promptly shared the clip on his platform Truth Social, which he has peppered with myriad ravings about the search of his property of late. Meanwhile, menacing messages from angry supporters are inundating the National Archives, and one man attempted to attack an FBI facility. The Jan. 6 insurrection showed the country how readily some voters will interpret a leader’s words as a call to arms — and then action.
Mr. Graham, a former prosecutor who has chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, should understand how his comments could heighten the risk of unrest. He should know that the Justice Department does, too. By talking about the possibility of violence without condemning it, Mr. Trump’s sympathizers play a game of intimidation: daring Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring a case and face the consequences. As wary as Mr. Garland and his colleagues should be of overusing their power in tumultuous times, federal prosecutors must not allow themselves to be bullied out of doing their jobs. References to riots, civil war, banana republics or so much else we’ve heard in recent weeks make it more dangerous for the government to uphold the rule of law. “I worry about our country,” Mr. Graham said at the end of Sunday’sinterview. His reckless words and others like them are cause for the greatest concern.“