Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar appeared on CNN this morning and defended a baseless tweet in which she alleged that Sen. Lindsey Graham is compromised––as in being blackmailed. In a rambling response to questions about the tweet, Omar said she is “pretty sure” that the Trump administration has something on Graham. Asked what that something might be, she suggested something having to do with campaign finances, or senate leadership positions, which sounds a lot more like normal politics than blackmail.
When pressed for evidence, she failed to present any and finally described the tweet as an “opinion based on things visible to me.” The response drew attention because of its similarity to a conspiracy theory suggesting that Graham is gay and that is what’s being held over his head. If indeed that is what Omar was winking at, it’s shameful and homophobic, but even if it wasn’t, her accusation is baseless, dangerous, and she should immediately apologize to Graham.
That the claim is baseless is obvious from the video. The only thing approaching evidence that she cites is that Graham has changed his mind about Donald Trump over the past few years. Well, I’ve got news for Omar, so have a lot of people, and not all of them are being blackmailed by some nefarious Trump organization. Graham has said very critical things about Trump in the past, many during the hotly contested 2016 primary in which the two men were opponents.
There’s nothing strange about political rivals criticizing each other, even in extreme ways. After Trump’s election, Graham maintained a wary relationship with Trump, but was by no means marching with the resistance. And even to this day, he is still deeply critical of the president on foreign policy, just yesterday urging Trump to reconsider his decision to pull troops from Syria. The charge doesn’t add up or make sense.
The tweet and subsequent allegation in the interview are dangerous because Omar is not an activist anymore; she’s an elected official. Her words as a member of Congress carry significant weight. Particularly troubling is use of the term “visible to me” in addressing what evidence she has. As a House Representative she may well have access to information the public does not. Is this the case?
It’s one thing for an outlet like InfoWars to spread lies and conspiracy theories, but when Omar does, it provides a sheen of validity to the claim. One can easily see her followers; she has 434,000 on Twitter alone, deciding to believe her, presumably because they trust her judgment and honesty. Both of those qualities––to the extent she has them––are very much diminished by this reckless accusation.
For three years, Democrats have lectured and scolded conservatives about the tone of President Trump, about his lies and personal attacks, and his unwillingness to apologize for them. It’s time for Democrats to walk their talk and decry this outlandish attack on a fellow member of Congress whose only sin is agreeing sometimes with a president that progressives despise.
When, either with intent or through negligence, a person slanders another with fake allegations, the proper recourse is to apologize. The purpose of the apology is not merely to make amends for treating someone badly, but also to firmly set the record straight. If Omar fails to do so she will be actively encouraging people to accept her baseless allegation.
Under Rule XXIII 1., the code of conduct in the House rules, members “shall behave at all times in a manner that that shall reflect credibility on the House.” This absurd accusation against Graham is about the farthest thing from reflecting credibility that one can imagine. And the fact that it is leveled against a fellow member of Congress only makes it worse, if our legislators are acting in such absolutely bad faith how can they possibly come together to get the people’s work done?
Apologies are not easy, but they are vitally important, and one from Omar could go some way towards easing the tribal and partisan nature of our current political debates. Is that what Omar wants? Or does she want merely to destroy those who disagree with her or dare to praise Trump?
The people of Minnesota and the nation deserve better than this. They deserve representatives with enough courage and conviction to admit when they make a mistake, own it, and say so. Republicans and Democrats alike should call on Representative Omar to do just that.