“I better not say I’m ready to answer your questions, because I don’t know what you’re going to ask,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said at the beginning of his telephone interview with Dr. Bob Leonard on KNIA/KRLS, the local news radio station for Knoxville, Pella and Indianola.
It seemed like a good-natured joke when Grassley said it, but it turned out to be an accurate prediction of how the interview would go, as Iowa’s senior senator offered only evasive responses to questions about the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Leonard began the In Depth podcast published Wednesday by asking Grassley if he was watching the televised sessions of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, better known as the Jan. 6 Committee.
“Oh, you wouldn’t expect me to be glued to the TV when I’m in my office all day, committee meetings to attend, floor votes. I think you get the point,” Grassley replied. “My job is to serve the people of Iowa. If I was watching television, I’d probably be watching the debate on the floor of the United States Senate.”
That’s the sort of self-serving nonanswer Grassley has used in interviews for decades, and because the senator almost always receives deferential treatment from Iowa reporters, it would typically be enough to end the discussion. Another interviewer likely would have let the statement stand on its own and switched to another topic, but not Leonard.
He genially but firmly pushed Grassley to answer his questions.
“Well, I’m sure you’re reading news reports of what’s happening,” Leonard said, after Grassley claimed to be too busy to watch the hearings.
The senator was dismissive of the committee, suggesting its proceedings are unfair because it lacks pro-Trump members and that its work is mostly of interest to partisan Democrats.
“Yes I do read, but it’s important to some,” Grassley said. “But remember, it’s a very partisan approach. There aren’t anybody [sic] of opposing views on there like there is on most committees.”
Grassley then conflated the prosecution of the rioters who stormed the Capitol with the committee’s work investigating Trump’s role in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“And we see the courts and the executive branch handling this whole issue that happened on Jan. 6 in a very fairer [sic] way than what the House committee’s doing,” he said.
“And we’ve had two Senate committees that have addressed this as well, what happened on Jan. 6,” Grassley continued, referring to limited investigations conducted that have been revealed as inadequate by the vast amount of evidence and testimony collected by the select committee.
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Grassley concluded his response: “And you know, what I’m hearing from Iowans isn’t much about Jan. 6, I’m hearing about inflation, gas prices, things that are helping or hurting families and farmers and small businesses, and uh, these are more bipartisan issues than what’s going on in the Jan. 6 committee.”
Claiming that a topic isn’t of interest to Iowans and therefore there’s no reason he should focus on it is another standard Grassley tactic. It works with most Iowa interviewers, but not Leonard.
He asked if Grassley wanted to know, if only out of “innate curiosity,” what the select committee is uncovering.
After stammering for a moment, Grassley replied, “Don’t forget, I was there when all this was going on. So, nobody’s got to educate me about it.”
Leonard turned to efforts by members of the Trump administration and other supporters working with the White House to pressure Mike Pence into not certifying the results of the presidential election on Jan. 6. After saying, “Aren’t we fortunate that that didn’t happen,” Grassley started talking about the rioters again, ignoring the people working directly with Trump.
“They [the Justice Department] got 800 people arrested,” he said. “They’re prosecuting. And I’m going to let the courts make that judgment. They’re going to make that judgment.”
Leonard then asked about the select committee having evidence that six congressmen asked Trump for preemptive pardons for their work to overturn the election. “Is that a concern for you?”
“They didn’t get a pardon, so you’re talking about something that didn’t happen,” Grassley replied.
“Sitting congressmen asked for pardons for activities related to — somehow — to overturning the election,” Leonard said. “That would seem to be a concern.”
“Listen, you’ve got all kinds of people around here,” Grassley replied. “So, somebody writes up some memo, that goes to the vice president. The vice president didn’t follow it. I get a lot of memos from my staff I don’t follow. They just want to present their views to me, I listen to their views. In this case, Pence didn’t listen to it. And once again, let me say, aren’t we fortunate he didn’t do it?”
As president pro tempore of the Senate — a largely ceremonial position given to longest-serving member of the majority party, as Grassley was on Jan. 4, 2021 — Grassley would have presided over the Senate if Pence had been absent for the certification of the election results. Noting there’s evidence that Trump may have wanted to keep Pence out the Senate chamber, if the vice president wasn’t willing to reject certification, Leonard asked Grassley “What would you have done [if you had been in charge]? Did anyone approach you about not certifying the results of the… ”
“No,” Grassley interrupted, before Leonard could finish the question. “I did my job. And he [Pence] did his job.”
The question of what Grassley would do in the Senate on Jan. 6, 2021 was first raised on Jan. 5, 2021. That morning, Roll Call reported Grassley “says he and not Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the certification of Electoral College votes, since ‘we don’t expect him to be there.’”
NEW: Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Senate president pro tempore, says he and not Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the certification of Electoral College votes, since "we don't expect him to be there."
— Roll Call (@rollcall) January 5, 2021
After Roll Call tweeted those remarks, Grassley’s Senate office quickly issued a statement saying he had been misunderstood, and Grassley had no information to suggest Pence would not preside over the Senate on Jan. 6.
Grassley's office clarifies that he was meaning to explain what would happen if Pence had to step away during Wednesday's proceedings to count Electoral College votes. "Every indication we have is that the vice president will be there," Grassley's office said.
— Roll Call (@rollcall) January 5, 2021
Both Grassley’s Senate office staff and his reelection campaign staff have sharply criticized people who have called for the senator to offer a fuller explanation about what he meant on Jan. 5. Grassley has not made any further statements about it.
As his final question on the Jan. 6 insurrection, Leonard asked Grassley, “Do you understand why we should be concerned with this, or [do you] just want it all to go away?”
“I think I made it pretty clear that I’m doing my job today as it is on June 21,” Grassley replied.
“OK, so you’re not looking back,” Leonard said.
“I’m looking at what I’ve got to do,” Grassley said. “I think I’ve probably told you before: let go, let God. Let go, let God.”
“Not sure I understand what you mean,” Leonard said.
“Well, in other words, do what you can take care of and leave the rest of it to God,” Grassley explained.
After spending more than half the time allotted for the interview trying to get Grassley to answer questions about Jan. 6, or at least acknowledge the importance of the Congressional investigation into Trump’s attempt to subvert the 2020 election, Leonard turned to other topics.
Despite the vague and evasive nature of the replies, Leonard’s podcast was the most revealing interview with Grassley on Jan. 6 conducted so far.