How would anything happening on Jan. 6 relate badly on the vice president? It wouldn’t. But the statements, which Graham made—where else?—while speaking with Sean Hannity on Fox News don’t actually have anything to do with the assault on the Capitol or Trump’s impeachment. As Yahoo News makes clear, Graham is really speaking to an existing Republican theme claiming that Democrats have encouraged violence by Black Lives Matter protesters.
"If you're going to pursue this, and you wanna start calling witnesses, and you want to drag this thing out, it would be fair to have Kamala Harris' tape play where she bailed people out of jail,” said Graham. “What more could you do to incite future violence, than to pay the bail of the people who broke up the shops and beat up the cops. How's that not inciting future violence? Be careful what you wish for my Democratic colleagues, be careful what you wish for."
The thing about the “Kamala Harris’ tape” is that it would be very difficult to play. Because there is no tape. Instead, there appears to be nothing behind this by a single tweet from Harris in which she encouraged contributions to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which helps to address inequities in America’s often crushing cash bail system. Harris’ tweet was made on June 1, placing it less than a week after Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police, and at a time when over a hundred nonviolent protesters had been arrested.
The claim that Harris was encouraging violence became a recurring theme on the right. In August, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted that Harris “helped violent rioters in Minnesota get out of jail to do more damage.” Donald Trump recycled that information the next day, except that Trump—as he does so often—expanded on the lie to make it not just about Harris, but “thirteen members of Biden’s campaign staff” as well as “his running mate, Kamala” bailing “rioters” and “looters” out of jail.
Now, almost six months later, Graham is reviving this claim against Harris as if it represents some sort of defense of Trump. It’s a mirror of how Republicans have been reacting to criticism of QAnon Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene by waggling fingers at Rep. Ilhan Omar. In both cases, Republicans are trying to equate racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacist violence with Black Americans asking for justice.
As The Washington Post pointed out back in September, this whole line of attack isn’t just racist, it’s also simply wrong. Of the 170 arrested in connection with the protests between Floyd’s murder and the date of Harris’ tweet, 167 were released without bail or with only a small fee. About a third were arrested without charges. Minnesota Freedom Fund definitely benefited from the attention, and their contributions went way up. But it seems that none of the money actually went to bail out anyone charged with either rioting or looting. Some of the money collected did later go toward people charged with serious crimes, even murder. But that’s an indictment of the cash bail system, and the massive inequality it generates in the justice system. It’s not a mark against Kamala Harris.
In any case, what Graham is proposing is the kind of testimony that would not be allowed in any court. It’s pointing a false finger of blame at someone else in a completely different situation. It’s a third grade idea of justice where “she did it too” is supposed to be an excuse for doing something wrong.
On top of all that, Graham’s finger pointing at Harris is deeply racist. Not only is it built on false racist claims about protesters in Minnesota, it’s absolutely no coincidence that Graham was signaling toward Harris and not other people who have been vocal about the need to abolish the cash bail system—including President Biden.
Unable to defend Greene, Republicans have resorted to attacking Omar or Maxine Waters, as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy did in his statement on Tuesday evening. Unable to defend Trump, Graham instead lodged a completely false claim at Kamala Harris.
Those targets are not a coincidence.