Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) followed up his call for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assassination with a “Fox and Friends” appearance on Friday defending the extreme suggestion.
Graham first floated the idea in a pair of widely condemned tweets and a Fox News interview on Thursday as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second week.
“Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” Graham wrote Thursday evening, referencing the German officer who led a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in 1944.
“The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country ― and the world ― a great service,” Graham wrote.
“The only people who can fix this are the Russian people. Easy to say, hard to do,” he added.
Despite swift blowback in the U.S. from politicians in both parties and from the Kremlin, Graham renewed his push for murder on Fox News’ morning program.
“The way this will end is when he gets charged with a war crime — Putin and his cronies — and then one day we nab him when he leaves Russia,” Graham said. “But the best way for this to end is having ... the ‘Russian Spring,’ so to speak, where people rise up and take him down because if he continues to be their leader, then he’s going to make you complicit in war crimes.”
He went on to address Russians directly: “You’re a good people. You’ll never have a future. You’ll be isolated from the world, and you’ll live in abject poverty. So, I’m hoping somebody in Russia will understand that he’s destroying Russia and you need to take this guy out by any means possible.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Graham’s stance was “certainly not a statement you would hear coming from the mouth of anyone working in the administration.”
Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, called the idea “unacceptable and outrageous” on Facebook, according to NBC News, and said the level of hatred for Russia in the U.S. was “off the scale.”
Conservatives in the U.S. also called Graham out onli
“I am respectfully asking Senator Graham to read the second half of Julius Caesar,” right-leaning New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) labeled it “an exceptionally bad idea.”
“Use massive economic sanctions; BOYCOTT Russian oil & gas; and provide military aid so the Ukrainians can defend themselves,” Cruz wrote on Twitter. “But we should not be calling for the assassination of heads of state.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) ― the extremist who entertained QAnon conspiracies ― wrote in a tweet that Graham’s suggestion was “irresponsible, dangerous & unhinged.”
Rachel E. VanLandingham, a professor of law at Los Angeles’ Southwestern Law School, acknowledged that Putin’s attacks amounted to international crimes, but doubted his murder would de-escalate the war in Ukraine.
“Depends on who replaces him,” VanLandingham wrote in an email. “Will this lead to true regime change, regime change that is more willing to abide by rule of law? Dangerous and risky. Would Putin dying tomorrow be an effective means of ending the current conflict? I don’t see evidence of that.”
But VanLandingham said she could see how Putin’s rampant violations of international norms made the idea appealing on its face.
“There are children being slaughtered by Putin’s bombs, as well as the erosion of the entire legal architecture established to maintain world peace,” VanLandingham said. “If simply killing Putin could end that, I understand the desire to bring that about.”
Russia is currently under investigation at the Hague by the International Criminal Court following a barrage of accusations that its soldiers have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Western leaders have been funneling supplies to Ukrainian troops and citizens fighting off their invaders, and have imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs and the Russian economy.
While Putin’s plans for Ukraine are opaque, his troops attacked and seized a large Ukrainian nuclear power plant and he has vaguely threatened to use Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal against countries that get in his way.