Chuck Grassley can't quit covering for Trump on Russia

For the fourth time in less than two months, President Donald Trump has fired an inspector general who had stirred up trouble for him or his political allies.

Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley has championed whistleblowers and inspectors general for decades. Yet just like last month, he declined to condemn Trump’s retaliatory move. Grassley didn’t mention State Department Inspector General Steve Linick’s dismissal on his widely-viewed Twitter feed this weekend. Meanwhile, his office released a statement that dinged Linick for not looking into “the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation.”

Trump’s Friday-evening letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not explain why he lacks confidence in Linick. Josh Lederman and Andrea Mitchell reported for NBC News on May 16 that Linick “was looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands, according to two congressional officials assigned to different committees.”

Pompeo himself recommended that Trump fire the inspector general, a White House official told CNBC.

Here’s the full text of Grassley’s written statement on this brazen corruption.

“Here again, inspectors general are crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve. Mr. Linick led the State Dept. IG’s office after the position had been intentionally left vacant for the first four years of the Obama Administration. Although he failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG. As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Grassley said.

When Trump sidelined the intelligence community’s inspector general in April, Grassley trotted out this “not sufficient” talking point. The president ignored senators’ request for a more detailed written explanation of that decision. Grassley did nothing to force the issue.

Walter Shaub, a former Director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration, called out the phoniness of the Grassley “brand.”

By the way, Trump “also replaced the acting inspector general at the Department of Transportation on Friday night,” the Washington Post reported. According to Zachary Cohen of the National Journal, that official was “one of the IGs responsible for pandemic recovery oversight.”

Grassley spent the weekend tweeting about “colorful trees” at his family’s farm, his neighbor’s horses, and soybean seedlings emerging.

His written statement was more critical of the fired inspector general (who supposedly “failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation”) than of the president.

Speaking of which, Grassley took to the Senate floor on May 11 to deliver a long speech about the Justice Department’s dismissal of the criminal case against Michael Flynn. I’ve posted the video and full prepared text below. The gist is that charging Flynn with lying to the FBI was a gross abuse of power, and therefore Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign–prompted in part by the president’s effort to get Flynn off the hook–was illegitimate.

Grassley never wanted a special counsel to be appointed and from the start expressed certainty that no one on the Trump campaign committed any crimes. He strived mightily to promote alternate narratives: of government officials “colluding and conspiring to take down Trump,” of Ukraine being the real culprit in 2016 election interference, and of the U.S. House failing “in the fundamentals of oversight” when the Trump administration blocked witnesses from testifying and withheld documents under subpoena.

Grassley’s speech about Flynn echoed one of Trump’s favorite talking points: “We had Mueller for two years and more than $30 million. Mueller found no collusion, and no obstruction.” (Hundreds of former federal prosecutors asserted last year that the conduct described in “Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”)

Attempts by Grassley and others to rewrite the history of the Flynn prosecution can’t withstand scrutiny. Marcy Wheeler has refuted some of the arguments (see here, here, here, and here).

Wheeler also pointed out an important angle to this story:

Barbara Ledeen is a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning she worked for Chuck Grassley and now works for Lindsey Graham. She’s almost certainly the mastermind of their efforts to declassify every little thing that might undermine the Mueller investigation. […]

But Ledeen’s role goes beyond getting things that undermine Trump’s critics while hiding key facts that wouldn’t.

As the Mueller Report laid out, both she and her husband Michael play key roles in this saga. While a Senate staffer, Ledeen started searching for Hillary’s missing emails as early as 2015. She wanted to reach out via cut-outs to hostile intelligence services and ultimately claimed to have found emails on the dark web. […]

The role of Ledeen’s husband is even more notable. The first person Flynn spoke to after Russia reached out to him — even before he spoke with his Deputy, KT McFarland, was Ledeen, who was then a Transition staffer.

Bleeding Heartland published all of the Mueller report’s sections discussing Barbara Ledeen here.

Naturally, Grassley didn’t mention his longtime staffer’s involvement when he accused the FBI of abusing “governmental power in ways the Founders and Framers feared most.”

Final note: A reporter’s viral tweet (which I helped amplify) quoted Grassley as saying on May 11 that in pleading guilty, Flynn “did what any farmer would do for his family. If it could happen to Flynn, it could happen to you.”

Although the video shows Grassley did say “farmer,” he quickly corrected himself to “father,” as was written in his prepared remarks. Consequently, I have deleted my tweet. The senator’s premise–that any decent person might lie to the FBI about contacts with a foreign adversary–is still absurd.

UPDATE: Grassley wrote to the president on May 18 about Linick’s removal. I’ve enclosed the full text below. Highlights:

As mentioned in previous letters, Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act.[4] This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing, or failure to perform the duties of the office.[5] The Senate Committee Report on the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 provides further clarity regarding the high bar that is expected in cases of removal. In that report, the Committee expressed its intent that, “Inspectors General who fail to perform their duties properly whether through malfeasance or nonfeasance, or whose personal actions bring discredit upon the office, be removed.”[6] The report also states that, “[t]he requirement to notify the Congress in advance of the reasons for the removal should serve to ensure that Inspectors General are not removed for political reasons.”[7]

IGs are intended to be equal opportunity investigators and are designed to combat waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct without regard to political affiliation. They are the ultimate swamp drainers. Many IGs span multiple administrations and work in a nonpartisan manner to provide objective oversight of the Federal Government. Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports.

These concerns are only amplified when an acting IG is appointed from the agency that the IG oversees, a situation that creates obvious conflicts of interest. And particularly when, as is alleged here (and in the case of the new acting Inspector General for the Department of Transportation), the newly appointed acting IG leadership are political appointees at the agency, who reportedly plan to keep their political appointments while serving as head of an inspector general office. If this is true, it means that while still reporting to the agency secretary, they will have oversight of and access to all confidential inspector general information, including whistleblower complaints and identities. As you work toward filling IG roles, it is absolutely imperative than any acting leadership do not create obvious conflicts that unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general.

Grassley also asked Trump to “provide me and my colleagues a written response to our letter of April 8, 2020, regarding the removal of [the intelligence community’s] Inspector General Atkinson as soon as possible.” Don’t hold your breath, senator.

SECOND UPDATE: Grassley tweeted on May 22 that he had called the White House counsel the previous day and had a “productive conversation” about “the need to respond to my inquiries on IG removals as law requires.” The senator said he made “ABSOLUTELY CLEAR” that inspectors general should be “apolitical” and was told to expect a response to both letters on Tuesday, May 26.

Presumably the president will cite some appropriate-sounding pretexts for his decisions, and Grassley will drop the matter. However, it’s clear the moves were retaliatory. Trump told reporters on May 18, “I don’t know him [Linick]. Never heard of him. But I was asked by the State Department, by Mike” to remove him.
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Appendix: Video and full prepared remarks by Senator Chuck Grassley, delivered on May 11, 2020

On Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and the Russia Investigation

In the last several weeks, a lot of information relating to the FBI’s Russia investigation has been declassified and made public. That’s in large part thanks to Attorney General Barr and Acting Director Grenell. Their acts of transparency are finally shining a light on the dark corners of the federal government. They’re doing what they ought to do and I encourage them to keep it up.

In the last several weeks, we’ve also seen a lot of denial from some quarters in the media about the information that’s been released. Also, last week, former President Obama said the rule of law is at risk because of the Justice Department’s dismissal of the Flynn case.

I believe the opposite is true. The rule of law is at risk if the federal government can get away with violating the constitution to do what they did to Lt. Gen. Flynn. And when it comes to those violations and other misconduct by former government officials, Obama and the mainstream media pundit circle are silent.

I’ve heard no comment from Mr. Obama about independent Inspector General findings that Andrew McCabe lied under oath to federal investigators multiple times. Or about how DOJ prosecutors falsely told the court that they had produced all Brady material to Flynn. Or when the federal government surveilled an American citizen connected to the Trump campaign without probable cause and based on intelligence the FBI knew was questionable at best.

Since 2017, I’ve aggressively pursued the Flynn investigation to find out more about why the FBI decided to interview Flynn, make him a subject of an investigation, and then why the Justice Department eventually charged him. From the beginning, I’ve wanted to know the facts of the case. And from the beginning, none of what I found looked right.

Having done good government oversight for over 40 years, I know a government foul up when I see it.

The public knows a lot more than it did in 2017 when the news first broke about the Flynn case. For example, we know that on January 4, 2017, the FBI wrote a closing memorandum on Flynn, who was codenamed Crossfire Razor by the FBI, that said the Intelligence Community could find no derogatory information on him.

On the very same day the FBI was ready to close the Flynn case, Peter Strzok asked another FBI agent, “Hey if you haven’t closed Razor don’t do it yet.”

The case was still open at that moment and Strzok asked that it be kept open “for now.” Strzok then messaged Lisa Page saying that Razor still happened to be open because of some oversight and said “Yeah, our utter incompetence actually helps us. 20 percent of the time…”

During the course of my oversight activities of the FBI, I’ve uncovered and made public large amounts of Strzok’s and Page’s messages. When reviewing all the faults and disasters of the Russia investigation, these text messages are very important. They are the free expression of these top FBI employees’ mindset, unencumbered by rules or decorum. They give us a look at what the drivers of the Russia investigation actually believed.

In August 2016, just after the FBI opened the Russia investigation, Page said, “Trump’s not ever going to become president, right? Right?!?”

She’s the one who edited Flynn’s 302 summary along with Strzok, which contradicted the original 302.

Strzok responded, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

Their animus towards Trump helps to explain why they cut corners and didn’t follow regular protocol in running their inquiry.

On January 5, 2017, the day after Strzok moved to keep the Flynn case open, President Obama met with Director Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. In that meeting they briefed Obama on the Russia investigation. It’s unclear to what extent they discussed the details of the investigation amongst each other. Given all that we know now regarding the fake foundation to the inquiry, it’s time we asked: what did Obama and Biden know and when did they know it?

During the course of my oversight, I acquired an email from Susan Rice. She sent herself an email on Obama’s last day in office – January 20, 2017. That email memorialized the alleged contents of the January 5, 2017, meeting with Obama.

As I noted in 2018 when I made that email public, I found it odd that among her activities in the final moments of the final day of the Obama administration that she would write herself an email about a meeting that happened weeks prior about one investigation. According to Rice, Obama wanted everything done “by the book.” Of course, that never happened.

She also said, in part, “The President (as in Obama) asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team.”

Then, one week later, on January 12, 2017, somebody in the Obama administration leaked the Flynn/Kislyak call to the Washington Post that ignited rumors about Flynn’s associations with Russians and a possible violation of the arcane Logan Act. A perfectly timed leak. One that would help create the fake foundation to interview Flynn.

Well, twelve days later, on January 24, 2017, Strzok interviewed Flynn in the White House. Prior to that interview, Comey chose not to follow normal protocols to inform the White House that the FBI intended to interview an employee. Usually you work through the White House counsel to have discussions for approvals and who would be present.

Comey even bragged about getting away with skirting these rules. When he was asked in a 2018 interview about how he did it, Comey said, “I sent them. Something I probably wouldn’t have done or even gotten away with in a more organized investigation, a more organized administration.”

According to Comey’s former assistant, Comey said, “We just decided, you know, screw it” in reference to them breaking protocol.

That’s hardly “by the book.”

Flynn was never told what he was being secretly interrogated for and the whole thing was done without an attorney present. Now we know that the FBI had no real investigative purpose to interview Flynn.

We also know, based on FBI notes, that agents apparently interviewed Flynn to trick him in a lie so that they could prosecute him or get him fired. Keep in mind, the FBI had prepared to close the case weeks before.

The FBI already had the transcript of the Flynn/Kislyak call. They knew exactly what was discussed, so what was the point of interviewing Flynn if they already had the transcript?
Well, lucky for Strzok, the FBI had not technically closed the Flynn case yet so he figured they could lay a trap for Flynn. In so doing, they didn’t warn him he was under investigation. They went around the Justice Department and bypassed White House interview protocols.

Under Comey’s leadership, the FBI abused governmental power in ways the Founders and Framers feared most. The Russia investigation is a textbook example of what not to do. At every step of the investigation, the government sought evidence to advance it, never got the evidence they needed, and advanced the investigation anyway.

That is an abuse of power!

Let’s recall that Comey also leaked his memos of his private discussions with President Trump to get a special counsel appointed. He had a plan. It worked. We had Mueller for two years and more than $30 million. Mueller found no collusion, and no obstruction. That’s exactly the same information that the House Intelligence Committee’s 50 plus depositions told us. And those were done in 2017. Mueller finished in 2019. That’s more than $30 million just to reinvent the wheel.

Now, with respect to Comey, I think it’s monumentally important to point out a piece of his testimony from 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee. Comey said the following,

“…we had an open counterintelligence investigation on Mr. Flynn, and it had been open since the summertime, and we were very close to closing it. In fact, I had – I think I had authorized it to be closed at the end of December, beginning of January.”

Comey leaked his memos so that the public would know that the President allegedly said to him that he hoped Comey would let the whole Flynn thing go.

That’s what the hook was to getting a special counsel appointed.

Not once in Comey’s memos did he mention that by the time that conversation occurred, he had already authorized the Flynn case to be closed. Don’t you think that’s a material fact that would put the proper context on his interactions with Trump?

Attorney General Barr is exactly right. What the FBI did to Flynn cannot be justified by any angle of review. What the FBI did is flout the rules, the law and the Constitution.

That’s where the outrage ought to be. Not on the dismissal of the case but on the fact the case was brought in the first place and a good man’s life was destroyed.

Mueller had all these facts. He had the documents. Had the Brady material. He had the FBI notes and contradictory 302 summaries. He had the emails. He had all the information that showed Flynn was set up, targeted, and pressured to plead guilty in a secret side deal between the Mueller team and his former lawyers only because he was running out of money and the government was coming after his son.

Flynn did what he did to save his family from financial ruin and his son from reputational ruin. He did what any father would do for his family.

If it can happen to Flynn it can happen to you. And in some ways it also happened to Carter Page and the illegal surveillance on him.

We’re in a constant battle between liberty and tyranny. My fellow Americans, let’s use the Russia investigation and all its shortcomings to forever guard against the tyranny of the federal government.

Appendix 2: Full text of Grassley’s May 18 letter to President Trump

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

On Friday, May 15, you provided notice to Congress of your intent to remove the State Department Inspector General (State IG) Steve Linick.[1] This follows the recent removal of the Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) Michael Atkinson, which generated several letters of concern from the Senate, including a bipartisan letter that I drafted with several of my colleagues.[2] We still have received no official response. As you know, Congress created inspectors general to combat waste, fraud, and abuse, and to be independent watchdogs holding federal agencies accountable to the taxpayer. In light of their important and unique role, they report to both the President and Congress. To guard them from unwarranted political attacks from all sides, including from officials that they are duty bound to critique, Congress provided IGs with some additional protections. One of those is the requirement that the President provide notice and explanation to Congress 30 days before the removal of an IG.[3]

As mentioned in previous letters, Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act.[4] This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing, or failure to perform the duties of the office.[5] The Senate Committee Report on the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 provides further clarity regarding the high bar that is expected in cases of removal. In that report, the Committee expressed its intent that, “Inspectors General who fail to perform their duties properly whether through malfeasance or nonfeasance, or whose personal actions bring discredit upon the office, be removed.”[6] The report also states that, “[t]he requirement to notify the Congress in advance of the reasons for the removal should serve to ensure that Inspectors General are not removed for political reasons.”[7]

IGs are intended to be equal opportunity investigators and are designed to combat waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct without regard to political affiliation. They are the ultimate swamp drainers. Many IGs span multiple administrations and work in a nonpartisan manner to provide objective oversight of the Federal Government. Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports.

These concerns are only amplified when an acting IG is appointed from the agency that the IG oversees, a situation that creates obvious conflicts of interest. And particularly when, as is alleged here (and in the case of the new acting Inspector General for the Department of Transportation), the newly appointed acting IG leadership are political appointees at the agency, who reportedly plan to keep their political appointments while serving as head of an inspector general office. If this is true, it means that while still reporting to the agency secretary, they will have oversight of and access to all confidential inspector general information, including whistleblower complaints and identities. As you work toward filling IG roles, it is absolutely imperative than any acting leadership do not create obvious conflicts that unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general.

I have been a strong supporter of the Inspector General community throughout my time in Congress, most recently authoring with a group of my colleagues the Inspector General Empowerment Act, which passed with broad bipartisan support.[8] Inspectors General help ensure transparency and accountability, both of which are critical for taxpayers to have confidence in their government. They should be free from partisan political interference, from either the Executive or Legislative branch. I want to work with you to ensure that the enemy here is wasteful government spending, not the government watchdogs charged with protecting the taxpayer. To that end, please provide a detailed reasoning for the removal of Inspector General Linick no later than June 1, 2020. Please also provide me and my colleagues a written response to our letter of April 8, 2020, regarding the removal of Inspector General Atkinson as soon as possible.

Please contact Daniel Boatright or DeLisa Ragsdale of my committee staff with any questions at 202-224-4515.

Sincerely,

Charles Grassley

[1] Andrew Restuccia & Lindsay Wise, Congressional Democrats Launch Probe of Trump’s Ousting of State Department Watchdog, Wall St. J. (May 16, 2020), available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-fires-state-department-inspector-general-11589611232?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1; see also Inspector General Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. app. § 3(b).

[2] Letter from Charles Grassley et al., U.S. Senators, to Donald Trump, President of the United States (Apr. 8, 2020).

[3] 5 U.S.C. app. § 3(b).

[4] Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 111-409, 122 Stat. 4302; see also Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, S. 2324, 110th Cong. (2008), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/senate-bill/2324.

[5] S. Rep. No. 110-262, at 8 (2008) (reporting on S. 2324).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Inspector General Empowerment Act, S. 579, 114th Cong. (2015), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/579 .

Top photo: Screenshot from the video of Senator Chuck Grassley’s remarks about Michael Flynn on May 11, 2020.

  • Nothng really more to Say

    CG ever since he appeared on the scene with this “tax and spend liberal” mantra in the ’80s played up his ‘jes’ folks’ persona while morphing into one of Washington’s most loathsome handmaidens to fascism.
    From parroting Palin’s death panel garbage to now protecting DJT’s end runs around the rule of law….
    All this while poorly regulated food processing facilities sicken hundreds of workers. Workers who are then intimidated into returning to unclean work areas or lose unemployment benefits. Has Grassley ever once voiced concern for the workers that risk their lives supplying the food to the market that provides the profits which his campaign contributors corporations send to Sen. Grassley?
    Meanwhile, The governor is taking tips from the Punk’d guy. Even Moderates should be able to see this is not going to end well for anybody….or your 401k.
    Adding to this horror (an appropriate term from my perspective) Nobody is going to turn CG’s head at this moment. He’s got a crowBARR and he intends to use it.

  • One more thing to say

    Seems pertinent to say now and then that Grassley spent his 4th of July in Moscow just two years ago. I never have gotten over that.

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