Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.
Iowa’s U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley continues to baffle and befuddle his critics—and others—with his questionable comments on important issues of the day. Most recently, as noted in a Bleeding Heartland commentary by Laura Belin, Grassley declined to even read the historic indictment of former President Donald Trump.
Grassley told a Congressional reporter he had not (and I guess will not) read the indictment because he is “not a legal analyst.”
That makes no sense at all. The indictment, after all, is not a law review article up there in a rarefied scholarly atmosphere.
If you want an informed citizenry, there is no trade, occupation, craft or hobby that warrants special access to or exemption from taking a look at the indictment. All the more so for Grassley, given his professional background.
Yes, the indictment is more than 40 pages long as it lays out 37 criminal counts against Trump. But it is quite readable and easy to comprehend.
Understanding a Des Moines Register analysis of the three-deep roster of the Iowa Hawkeye 2023 football team may pose more of a challenge to readers than reading this account of Trump’s alleged crimes.
Besides, Grassley had better be some kind of a legal analyst. He has been a lawmaker for nearly 65 years: sixteen in the Iowa House, six in the U.S. House, and 43 so far in the U.S. Senate.
In those 65 years he must have voted on thousands of laws, most of which, one hopes, he managed to read—even the complex ones. He must be an author or co-author of hundreds of bills, including many that became law.
He also chaired the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 2015 to 2019. A law review article by Carl Tobias highlighted Grassley’s “disparate approach” as judiciary chair: severely delaying consideration of President Barack Obama’s nominees while “drastically speeding confirmations” after Trump became president.
As Senate Judiciary chair, Grassley helped produce the current U.S. Supreme Court majority, which has upended longstanding precedents on abortion and federal environmental regulations, among many other areas. (Several recent exposés about undisclosed gifts justices received from conservative billionaires reminded me of the late Gil Cranberg. As editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune’s editorial pages from 1975 to 1982, he often inveighed against the Supreme Court’s opaqueness and lack of meaningful ethical standards.)
For the immediate future, Grassley would have the judicial system play second fiddle to politics and voters when it comes to holding Trump accountable. At least that can be inferred from a Cedar Rapids Gazette report on one of his recent conference calls with some Iowa reporters.
He said Wednesday [June 14] he did not want to make comments that would alienate any Republican presidential candidates as they campaign in Iowa over the next several months.
“I want everybody to feel free to come to Iowa to campaign,” Grassley said. “And so I’m going to leave the political aspect of this up to the voters.” […]
“We’re just getting into the campaigns, and I think you can’t draw any conclusions. I think time’s going to answer your question,” he said when asked if he’s concerned over the prospect of Trump being president again. “Maybe if you asked me six months from now, I might give you a different answer.”
Hasn’t Trump already done enough to be denied a shot at re-election?
Consider how Grassley once claimed Obama’s health care reform plan might lead to government panels “pulling the plug on grandma,” and speculated last year that more funding for IRS law enforcement might lead to “a strike force that goes in with AK-15s (sic) already loaded ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa.” Yet he appears unconcerned by voluminous evidence of Trump’s law-breaking. You can see why a former longtime Grassley staffer Kris Kolesnik wrote last month that “fellow travelers in oversight circles have asked me: What has happened to Grassley?”
Kolesnik sees his former boss, who once tried to keep partisan politics out of oversight work, now “waging political battles” and “wading in the bogs with provocateurs and witnesses who so far seem to be credibility-challenged.”
You also can consider Grassley’s emergence at the state and federal levels. Back in the 1970s, bipartisanship was the order of the day under Iowa Governor Bob Ray. During the 1980s, Grassley forged a good reputation and gained widespread support for being willing to take on the Reagan administration as a first-term senator.
Today, he uses his clout to promote right-wing policies in state government and divisiveness across the nation. When it comes to Trump, Grassley has repeatedly failed to exercise the leadership potential and integrity he once was credited with.
Consider the contrast between Grassley’s silence (and apparent contentment) regarding Trump’s wrongdoing with what Lowell Weicker, the late U.S. senator and then governor of Connecticut, said as a member of the Watergate committee some 50 years ago.
When accused of being disloyal to the Republican party because of his involvement in holding President Nixon accountable, Weicker said, “Republicans do not cover up. Republicans do not … threaten. Republicans do not commit illegal acts. And, God knows, Republicans don’t view fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed.”
If only we had more such Republicans today.
UPDATE/Editor’s note from Laura Belin: Speaking to Robert Leonard on June 20, Grassley indicated that he had read the latest Trump indictment. He then sought to downplay the charges and changed the subject to the FBI’s supposed “political bias.”
Top photo of boxes stacked in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago originally published in the indictment of Donald Trump.