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.”
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.
Kathie Obradovich covered Grassley’s May 10 conference call with Iowa reporters:
“It’s my understanding how a special prosecutor operates … there is no public knowledge, no transparency on a special prosecutor investigation unless there are charges filed. And then you know everything, or at least you know everything after the trial,” Grassley said during his weekly call with Iowa reporters.
“And so if the whole idea is transparency to know how Russians are interfering in the investigation, or I mean in the elections … then the reports that come out of these four committees is going to make that possible when it maybe wouldn’t be possible under a special counsel,” Grassley said. […]
Trump, in his letter announcing Comey’s firing, said the director had assured him three times that he wasn’t under investigation. That statement, if true, by itself suggests inappropriate communication about an ongoing investigation that should be investigated.
Appointment of an independent commission, such as the one convened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, could address transparency concerns, Grassley acknowledged. But he doesn’t like that idea, either.
“I see that as delaying or restarting everything that’s been started … it would be duplicative and I’ve never heard any complaints about what the (House and Senate) committees have done so far,” he said.
I’m surprised Grassley’s “never heard any complaints.” Tim Mak reported for The Daily Beast last month,
More than three months after the [Senate Intelligence] committee announced that it had agreed on the scope of the investigation, the panel has not begun substantially investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, three individuals with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast.
The investigation does not have a single staffer dedicated to it full-time, and those staff members working on it part-time do not have significant investigative experience. The probe currently appears to be moving at a pace slower than prior Senate Intelligence Committee investigations, such as the CIA torture inquiry, which took years to accomplish.
No interviews have been conducted with key individuals suspected of being in the Trump-Russia orbit: not Michael Flynn, not Roger Stone, not Carter Page, not Paul Manafort, and not Jared Kushner, according to two sources familiar with the committee’s procedures.
“It’s either a real investigation or not,” said one individual with knowledge of the committee’s activities. “You have to have an approved investigative guide. You have to make it formal. Can you have a credible investigation with only seven part-time staffers, doing everything in secret?”
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation on Russia was thrown into chaos when its chairman Devin Nunes inappropriately shared information with Trump and other White House officials. The ranking Democrat accused his counterpart of undermining the committee’s work on White House orders. Nunes eventually recused himself from the investigation.
Matthew Schofield reported for McClatchy after Comey’s firing, “Members of Congress noted that their staffs are diligent, but that they don’t have the FBI’s resources or experience in criminal investigations or the capabilities of the intelligence community. Much of the work of Senate and House committees was reviewing the work already completed by FBI agents and other intelligence gatherers.”
MAY 12 UPDATE: Michael Isikoff reported for Yahoo News,
Just hours after White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Trump had received assurances from a key senator that the idea of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was a “hoax,” a spokesman for the senator, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, denied any such conversation.
“Sen. Grassley has not spoken to President Trump about what he has learned in briefings related to investigations into Russian interference in our elections, and he has never referred to the notion of collusion as a ‘hoax,’” Grassley’s spokesman, Taylor Foy, emailed Yahoo News. Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and together with ranking minority member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been briefed on details of the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
Foy’s statement seemed to directly contradict Spicer’s remarks earlier Friday, raising new questions about the credibility of White House accounts of the firing of FBI Director James Comey. “I think the president’s comments about Russia and collusion have been very clear with respect to some of the charges that have been made,” Spicer said. “He’s been very clear that he believes that the notion there’s collusion is a hoax. It’s been reaffirmed by several people, including Sen. Grassley and others who have spoke to him.”
MAY 16 UPDATE: As evidence of the president’s obstruction and misconduct continues to pile up, Grassley’s excuse-making for Trump is beyond embarrassing.