What do you have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

When I learned last summer that several Waterloo police officers who had used excessive force against black residents had not been disciplined, even after one officer threw a 17-year-old boy to the ground and filed a false report about the incident, and other officers kept their jobs despite making racist remarks at a murder scene or hitting a handcuffed, immobilized suspect on the back of the head, I wondered: what does someone have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

Last week the answer became apparent: a lot more than I would have imagined.

One officer remains on the Waterloo force even though Chief Dan Trelka determined he had abused his authority and “displayed poor judgement, unprofessionalism, a lack of competency, a lack of knowledge, a failure to conform to work standards, [and] a failure to take appropriate action”–without showing any remorse.

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Now we can see which Iowans will suffer most from Planned Parenthood and victims assistance cuts

It’s not abstract anymore.

We knew eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning services would cause thousands to lose access to basic health care.

We knew deep cuts to state funding for victims assistance would affect thousands of sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.

Now we are starting to see which Iowans will be the first to suffer from Republican choices on how to spend the public’s money.

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Grassley's excuse-making for Trump is beyond embarrassing

Yesterday’s revelation that President Donald Trump disclosed “highly classified information” to senior Russian officials in the Oval Office last week, jeopardizing “a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State,” sent the White House into crisis mode. Reporters “could hear yelling emanating from the presidential residence” as senior officials tried to contain the fallout. Amy Zegart estimated the possible damage to U.S. intelligence-gathering at “about a billion” on a scale of 1 to 10.

After sending his national security adviser out yesterday to make a “non-denial denial,” Trump asserted this morning he had “the absolute right” to share pertinent information in an “openly scheduled” meeting with Russia, claiming he did so for “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.” By the way, that meeting was closed to American journalists, as Trump gave exclusive access to a photographer for the Russian state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.

All of the above would be disturbing, even if Trump hadn’t just fired FBI Director James Comey and improperly asked Comey whether he was under investigation.

The reaction from self-styled watchdog Senator Chuck Grassley was a classic example of normalizing some of the most abnormal behavior we’ve seen yet from Trump–which is saying something.

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Grassley facing one of the most important decisions of his career

When President Donald Trump fired James Comey yesterday, not even halfway through the FBI director’s ten-year term, the Nixonian parallels were immediately obvious to almost everyone, except for Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley.

While others saw the White House citing “pretexts” in a “blatant effort to derail” the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, Grassley issued a statement accepting every lame excuse from the administration.

“Over the course of the last several months, Director Comey’s decisions on controversial matters have prompted concern from across the political spectrum and from career law enforcement experts.

“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI. In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide.

“The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence. Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost.

“The FBI Director serves at the pleasure of the president. Under these circumstances, President Trump accepted the recommendation of the Justice Department that the Director lacked the confidence needed to carry out his important duties.”

Within hours of Comey’s dismissal, multiple journalists confirmed that the president “had talked about the firing for over a week.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote up their recommendations “to give him rationale.” Sessions formally recused himself from the Russian investigation after failing to disclose his contacts with that country’s ambassador last year.

Grassley is among very few people to take Trump’s goodbye letter to Comey at face value, rather than as a smokescreen for a president who just “decisively crippled the F.B.I.’s ability to carry out an investigation of him and his associates.” CNN reported last night, “Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records […].” This morning, the New York Times revealed that last week Comey “asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.”

Some other Republicans were not so gullible. More than 100 members of Congress, joined by some conservative commentators, are now calling for an independent commission on Russia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants no part of that, telling reporters this morning that a new investigation would “impede” current work on Russia’s involvement.

Grassley is uniquely positioned to demand an independent inquiry. As Senate Judiciary Committee chair, he controls the process for confirming Comey’s successor. He could use that power to delay any confirmation hearings on a new FBI director until a special prosecutor has been named to investigate ties between Trumpworld and Russia, just as he exercised his prerogative to deny President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee any consideration during 2016.

Regrettably, Iowa’s longest-serving senator has signaled he will run interference for the White House. Asked this morning what he would say to those who have called the president’s action “Nixonian,” Grassley told the hosts of “Fox and Friends,” “My message is suck it up and move on.”

Grassley’s instinct to protect the president from came through during a May 8 Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing as well. While questioning former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., he revealed remarkably little interest in the bombshell revelation that Trump kept Flynn on his staff for eighteen days after Yates warned White House officials the president’s national security advisor had been compromised by Russia. Instead, the self-styled champion of whistle-blowers pushed Yates and Clapper hard about government leaks and “unmasking” of Trump administration officials. (The Washington Post published a full transcript of that hearing). Longtime GOP strategist Rick Wilson commented, “Grassley is running the WH talking points. It’s painful to see him so diminished.”

Historians will record who stood up for the rule of law, and who gave cover to a president’s cover-up. It’s not too late for Grassley to do the right thing.

P.S.- At this writing, Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst has released no statement on the biggest political news of the last 24 hours. Her Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of photos and mundane comments about her visits to businesses yesterday and this morning. Three months ago, Ernst made a big show of urging Trump to “pursue a principled and tough-minded Russia policy.”

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble received this statement from Ernst’s office by e-mail: “We didn’t send out a release. However, Senator Ernst has said the Director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the President; therefore, this decision was up to President Trump to make.”

SECOND UPDATE: Grassley expressed concerns this morning about Andy McCabe serving as acting FBI director, given his wife’s connections to Democrats.

THIRD UPDATE: Added below Grassley’s stated reasons for opposing a special prosecutor on Russia’s attempts to influence our elections and connections to Trump associates.

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Kathy Shelton's voice needs to be heard

Sexual Assault Awareness Month ended today with no sign our political leaders are committed to addressing a problem affecting millions of Americans.

Republicans in the Iowa legislature just approved a 25 percent cut to victims assistance grants that support a wide range of programs, from crisis counseling and court advocates for assault survivors to sexual violence prevention education. The federal government may also reduce funding for victim services during the next fiscal year.

The long-term effects of rape and sexual assault are well-documented but mostly invisible.

Six months ago, Kathy Shelton offered a rare window onto the severe trauma many victims still experience years or decades after an attack. Her cries of pain and anger should be a call to action for everyone.

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A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

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