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Lindsey Graham opposes ousting Trump 'for now' after day of violence in Washington

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In this image from video, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks as the Senate reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Senate Television via AP

COLUMBIA — A day after a mob stormed the Capitol building, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham called for the aggressive prosecution of everyone involved and pinned part of the blame on President Donald Trump. But he stopped short of calling for Trump to be removed from office in advance of President-elect Joe Biden's upcoming inauguration.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill, Graham said he was "embarrassed and disgusted" that the Capitol had been "taken over by domestic terrorists while we're in session transferring power from one president to the other."

"Sedition may be a charge for some of these people," said Graham, R-S.C., calling for the creation of a joint task force to identify "every person who breached the security of the Capitol, who occupied the chambers, who invaded offices and destroyed property."

Graham said, in his view, all of Trump's policy accomplishments for conservatives had been "tarnished" by the events.

"The president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution, that the rally yesterday was unseemly, that it got out of hand," Graham said.

But Graham resisted calls by some members of both parties to immediately remove Trump from office, either through impeachment or through the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the president's Cabinet to oust him.

"I do not believe that's appropriate at this point," Graham said. "I'm looking for a peaceful transfer of power. I'm looking for the next 14 days to reset and we will hand off power in a traditional sense."

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, voiced support for removing Trump from office through either method.

While Clyburn, the lone Democrat in South Carolina's congressional delegation, had questioned two days prior whether there would be enough time to go through an impeachment process before the inauguration, Wednesday's events appeared to change his mind.

"Time and circumstances may mitigate against invoking the 25th Amendment, which I support, but there is time for impeachment which seems appropriate," Clyburn said.

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Other prior allies of Trump, including former Chief of Staff John Kelly, said Thursday they supported removing the president. While Graham did not go as far, he did not entirely rule out the possibility of that changing in the days ahead.

"If something else happens, all options would be on the table," he said.

Despite his concerns about Trump's behavior in recent days, Graham said he did not regret forming a close alliance with him over the past few years but urged him to "turn down the rhetoric and allow us as a nation to heal and move forward."

"The people of South Carolina wanted me to work with this president and I did," Graham said. "I did the same with Obama, I'll do the same with Biden, but this was a Republican president."

Graham said his first priority moving forward would be to hold accountable anyone who committed crimes in Wednesday's riot.

Two FBI agents came to Graham's house Thursday morning to ask if he had any surveillance cameras outside that could be used to identify perpetrators, he said.

"I did not, but I'm encouraged they're on the case," Graham said. "Trust me, in the social media world that exists today, it won't be that hard to find thousands of people who took the law into their own hands."

Without naming names, Graham criticized "some very bad advisers" who he believed were pushing Trump in the wrong direction, while others were directing him toward a more peaceful transition.

He encouraged Trump to stop attacking the legitimacy of the election, reiterating his belief from the night before on the Senate floor that Biden was the lawful victor.

"My hope is that we can move forward in the next 14 days, but this will depend on what the president does," Graham said. "I am hopeful that the worst is behind us and we can transfer power on Jan. 20."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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