Lindsey Graham weighs in on John McCain and President Trump's 'contentious relationship'

  • "Almost the last thing he said to me was, 'I love you, I have not been cheated," Graham says of the elder statesman and Arizona Republican who died Saturday.
  • McCain succumbed to an aggressive form of brain cancer after more than three decades in Congress.
  • "Clearly they had a contentious relationship. He's not the only one to have had a tense relationship with John McCain," Graham says of Trump.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the US Capitol. 
Michael Brochstein | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the US Capitol. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Tuesday discussed the tense relationship between President Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain – and shared the last words he exchanged with his longtime friend and Senate colleague.

"Almost the last thing he said to me was, 'I love you, I have not been cheated,'" Graham said in an emotional interview on NBC's "TODAY."

As a tear rolled down his cheek, Graham expressed his admiration for McCain, the elder statesman and Arizona Republican who died Saturday.

"If I had to pick one person from this great land to explain to someone from a different planet, 'Who are these Americans?' it would be John McCain with an assist from [McCain aide] Mark Salter. He had a romantic view of our nation to his last breath," Graham said.

McCain succumbed to an aggressive form of brain cancer after more than three decades in Congress. The two senators were allies for much of that time, although they occasionally sparred over politics.

In the final years of their friendship, the two disagreed over Trump, whom McCain opposed and Graham supported after initially denouncing the real estate mogul and reality TV star on the campaign trail.

"Clearly they had a contentious relationship. He's not the only one to have had a tense relationship with John McCain," Graham said.

The tension carried over after death. Trump initially offered only a brief statement, posted on Twitter, expressing sympathy for the McCain family but no praise for the senator. Trump later appeared to snub the former Vietnam POW by raising the White House flag to full-staff on Monday over the objections of veterans groups. The president later ordered the flag re-lowered.

"How the president feels about Senator McCain, it's his right to feel any way he likes," Graham said during the interview. He added that, despite the public tension between the president and the late senator, Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, had been "terrific."

"The president told John Kelly, whatever they need they get," Graham said, speaking of McCain's family.