'Let's Take Out Putin': Graham Doubles Down on Ukraine War 'Off-Ramp'

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Sunday that the goal in the ongoing Ukraine war should be to "take out" Vladimir Putin, contending that there is "no off-ramp" with the Russian president remaining in power.

On March 3, shorty after Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Graham first floated the idea of assassinating Putin during an interview with Fox News. The GOP senator put the idea forward on Twitter shortly later as well. "Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?" Graham asked at the time.

The remark drew condemnation from the White House as well as some prominent conservatives. Later in March, Graham again doubled-down on the comments, saying during a press conference: "I hope he will be taken out."

"I just want him to go...I wish somebody had taken [former Nazi leader Adolf] Hitler out in the '30s," Graham added, calling Putin a "war criminal" and "not a legitimate leader." He said the Russian people need to "rise up and end this reign of terror."

Speaking to Fox News Sunday this weekend, Graham again asserted his view that Putin's removal from power would be the best case scenario. "Putin must go," he declared.

"If you don't understand this, that if Putin's still standing after all of this, then the world's going to be a very dark place," the GOP senator warned. "China's going to get the wrong signal and we'll have a mess on our hands in Europe for decades to come. So let's take out Putin by helping Ukraine."

"There's no off-ramp," Graham asserted as Fox News host Bret Baier started to ask if there are alternatives to the Russian president's removal from power. "No off-ramp. So let me tell you why there's no off-ramp...if we push the Ukrainians to give up half their country, then Putin wins. If we back off prosecuting Putin as a war criminal, all the laws on the books become a joke. If we don't get this right, China will certainly invade Taiwan."

Putin and Lindsey Graham
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said "Let's take out Putin," during an interview with Fox News Sunday. Above to the left, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on April 12. Above to the right, Graham listens during a Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense on May 3 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Sputnik/WIN MCNAMEE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

China claims Taiwan as part of its country. However, Taiwan has functioned as an independent nation for decades and has a democratically elected government, unlike China's authoritarian single-party rule. Analysts have long raised concerns that Beijing could invade the island country to reclaim control of the territory, with those fears mounting in recent years.

"Somebody's gonna win and somebody's gonna lose. And I hope and pray and do everything in my power to make sure Ukraine wins, and Putin is in charge—a state sponsor of terrorism, that designation needs to be given to Russia. He's earned that designation," the South Carolina Republican said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Graham's remarks in early March. At the time, Psaki told reporters "that is not the position of the United States government and certainly not a statement you'd hear come from the mouth of anybody working in this administration."

Putin 'Cannot Remain in Power'

When asked if President Joe Biden shared the senator's views, the press secretary condemned the notion and said the president believes there is a peaceful solution to the ongoing invasion if Putin initiates it. However, Biden at the end of March made a remark similar to that of Graham.

"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden said when he visited Poland. The White House then attempted to walk-back the president's words.

"The President's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region," a White House spokesperson said in a statement. "He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change."

Biden later explained his remark, saying: "I was expressing the moral outrage...I had just come from being with those families. But I want to be clear that I wasn't then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I make no apologies for it."

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., described Graham's early March statement as "unacceptable and outrageous." Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov pushed back against Biden's late March comment, telling Reuters at the time: "That's not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians."

Chinese state media warned after Graham's initial call for Putin's assassination in March that such comments were "very dangerous."

"The U.S. and Russia are both major nuclear powers. Any miscalculation that leads to war would be devastating to the world," the editorial board of The Global Times, a tabloid published by the Chinese Communist Party, wrote.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized Graham's idea for Putin to be assassinated shortly after he made the initial comment. "I don't know why a sitting U.S. senator would be tweeting that. We like Lindsey Graham, but that is just a stupid comment," she said.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian embassy and the White House for comment on Graham's Sunday remarks to Fox News.