Graham says he's 'increasingly optimistic' Trump's Syria strategy will succeed

After spending a week railing against President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, abandoning America’s Kurdish allies and opening the door for Turkey’s deadly invasion, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Sunday that he now supports the move.

“I’m increasingly optimistic this could turn out very well,” Graham told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. “I am increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years, if we play our cards right.”

Graham said he spoke with Trump over the weekend and that the president assured him the United States is not abandoning the Kurds, who suffered 10,000 killed in fighting against ISIS terrorists. (The United States, which supported the Kurds with arms and a relatively small contingent of special operations forces, lost eight lives in the five-year battle, Graham noted.)

“The president appreciates what the Kurds have done,” Graham said. “He wants to make sure ISIS doesn’t come back. I expect we will continue to partner with the Kurds into eastern Syria to make sure ISIS doesn’t reemerge. That is in our national security interests, and we owe it to the Kurds.”

Graham’s remarks came two days after the White House announced it had brokered a temporary ceasefire in Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. Critics, including Graham, had said Trump effectively caved to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Remove Graham from the list of critics.

“I blame Erdogan for the invasion, not Trump,” he said.

“The big thing for me is the oil fields,” Graham added. “President Trump is thinking outside the box. I was so impressed with his thinking about the oil. Not only are we going to deny the oil fields falling into Iranian hands, I believe we’re on the verge of a joint venture between us and the Syrian Democratic Forces, who helped destroy ISIS and keep them destroyed, to modernize the oil fields and make sure they get the revenue, not the Iranians, not Assad.”

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US President Donald Trump (R) jokes with US Senator Chuck Grassley (L), R-Iowa,that he likes Sen. Lindsey Graham(L) R-SC during a meeting with Republican members of the Senate about immigration at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 04: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (3rd L) speaks as (L-R) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) listen during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House January 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump met with Republican members of the Senate to discuss immigration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) scratches his brow as he stands behind President Donald Trump during an event with Republican lawmakers to mark passage of sweeping tax overhaul legislation at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham joins U.S. President Donald Trump for a meeting with some of his fellow Senate Republicans at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham joins U.S. President Donald Trump for a meeting with some of his fellow Senate Republicans at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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In a separate interview that was taped early last week with “Axios on HBO” but that aired Sunday, Graham said he would be open to the possibility of impeachment if there is evidence of what he considers a quid pro quo in the president’s dealings with Ukraine — beyond the phone call that is at the center of the current inquiry.

“If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham said when asked if he was open to changing his mind on impeachment.

Graham, who served in the House during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, said he did not consider the phone call a quid pro quo.

“I’ve read the transcript of the Ukrainian phone call,” he said. “That’s not a quid pro quo to me.”

Those comments were made before a White House press briefing in which Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, did not dispute the assertion that Trump’s withholding of aid to Ukraine in exchange for political dirt amounted a quid pro quo. “We do that all the time,” he added.

Hours later, Mulvaney released a statement saying he did not mean what he had said.

During the July 25 phone call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, his son Hunter — who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company during his father’s term as vice president — and the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia in 2016.

At the time of the call, Trump had ordered a suspension of aid to Ukraine unless certain conditions were met, including Zelensky’s cooperation on the investigations.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mulvaney told reporters at the White House. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

Graham wasn’t asked about Mulvaney’s admission during his Fox News interview, and he hasn’t commented on whether it constitutes sufficient evidence of a quid pro quo to affect his view of impeachment.

The South Carolina Republican, who frequently golfs with the president and has backed him through numerous scandals, told Axios his view on Trump’s character has evolved since 2016, when he lost to him in the GOP primary.

“I’ve got to know him, and I find him to be a handful,” Graham said. “I find him to be an equal opportunity abuser of people. But at the end of the day, he can be very charming and be very gracious, and I’m judging him by his conduct.”

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