Twenty years ago, Sen. Chuck Grassley was very clear how a president should behave: “The American people have a right to expect their president to be completely truthful.”
Grassley said that in a Feb. 12, 1999 speech during Senate deliberations on whether to convict President Bill Clinton of the charges stemming from his affair with Monica Lewinsky for which the House of Representatives had impeached Clinton.
“The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority,” Grassley said, explaining why he was voting to convict Clinton and remove him from office.
The contrast between Grassley’s 1999 stance and his official statement on the Mueller report has attracted attention on social media, with a 20-year-old video clip of the senator has been widely shared.
— DNC War Room (@DNCWarRoom) April 18, 2019
Last Thursday, when a heavily redacted version of the Mueller report was made public — and a less-redacted version was delivered to Congress — Grassley issued an official statement claiming, “President Trump has been cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice,” although the parts of the two volume report that were made public don’t support such a blanket statement.
Grassley didn’t address the extensive lying by President Trump documented in the Mueller report or his multiple attempts to get subordinates to lie and obstruct — or even end — the special counsel’s investigation. In 1999, dishonesty and misleading others were grounds for removing a president from office, according to Grassley. So was raising questions about the validity of the investigation into the president’s conduct.
“The full powers of the White House were on lease to stonewall the process and to attack the credibility of those who investigated him,” Grassley said in 1999. The senator said that it was imperative to remove such a president from office, otherwise future administrations “will refine and improve their own truth-fighting arsenals. Truth and openness will be casualties.”
Reaching for a bipartisan note in his condemnation of Clinton, Grassley quoted Franklin Roosevelt: “The Presidency is not merely an administrative office … It is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”
Grassley continued, “Last, there is the issue of the poor example the president’s actions serve for the nation, especially for our youth. Is it now OK to lie because the president does it?”
Grassley said he’d heard from “a middle school principal” and “the mother of a teenage son in Des Moines” who were upset about the example Clinton was setting for children, and said that was a reason to remove Clinton from office.
There’s no criticism of Trump in Grassley’s statement on the Mueller report. Instead, he disparages the “many critics of the constitutionally elected president” he claims spread “baseless Russian collusion hysteria to the detriment of our democracy and to the delight of the Kremlin.”
Grassley echoed the White House’s call to investigate the people and organizations Trump has identified as enemies who perpetrated what he calls “the Russia hoax” and “the greatest Witch Hunt in American history.”
We must take a hard look at how we got here and at the relevant issues that the Mueller report did not address. Were our premiere law enforcement and intelligence agencies co-opted by candidate Trump’s political opponents in an attempt to take him down? Did political bias or unverified claims taint decisions by senior agency officials? How did the media allow unsubstantiated innuendo and speculation to fester at max volume for so long? And how did many opponents of President Trump allow themselves to be turned into tools of Putin to divide our nation?
Grassley also didn’t comment on the revelation in Mueller’s report that, while Grassley was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, a staff member searched for emails Hillary Clinton had deleted at the request of Michael Flynn. Flynn, according to Mueller, was acting at the direction of then-candidate Trump. (Flynn, an adviser to the Trump campaign and Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017 and cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation.)
Contacted for comment by Erin Murphy of Lee Enterprise’s Des Moines Bureau, Grassley’s office denied the senator bore any responsibility for the actions of a member of his committee’s staff.
The office said the staffer’s searches were done during “her personal time and were not authorized by the judiciary committee. Staff did not learn of her efforts until she had completed her search, and she was instructed not to continue,” Murphy reported.
On Monday, CNN asked Iowa’s other senator about the Mueller report.
“I think we all know who the president is. He has a brash demeanor, that’s about all I can say,” Ernst said.
Ernst, a current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was also asked if Mueller should testify before the committee.
“I don’t know that that’s necessary. We have the report so we can go from there,” she replied.