Grassley looms as foil to Trump

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has emerged as a pivotal player in the controversy surrounding President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE and Russia.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley has threatened to subpoena Trump family members and associates over their roles in the controversy surrounding Russia’s involvement in last year’s presidential election.

He has also defended Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE, whom he had privately urged to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian meddling given the former Alabama senator’s role in Trump’s campaign.

Grassley warned the White House that there will be no confirmation hearings this year on a new attorney general if Sessions is dismissed.

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In June, Grassley criticized the White House Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion holding that only committee chairs have the constitutional authority to make official inquiries of the executive branch, not rank-and-file members.

Grassley shot that down emphatically.

“This is nonsense,” he wrote in a letter to Trump.

The actions highlight Grassley’s reputation as a dogged investigator — and an independent streak that has led him to embrace government whistleblowers.

“He’s got a strong sense of right and wrong, and I think that sense even surpasses party, which around here is a real virtue,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Grassley and Feinstein displayed notable cooperation in their efforts to secure testimony from Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.

Committee staff are negotiating to sit down with both men. The committee is expected to seek information from Jared Kusher, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, as well.

“This is vintage Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley announces reelection bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE. He believes in strong oversight and he’s going to be as aggressive as he feels like he needs to be in order to get it done,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE (Texas).

“Chuck Grassley has a reputation for rigorous oversight unmatched perhaps by anybody else in the Senate.”

Grassley’s committee is also trying to obtain memos that former FBI Director James Comey wrote of his interactions with Trump before his firing. His staff has reviewed the memos but doesn't possess them.

Grassley said in an interview that no one at the White House or within the Senate GOP leadership has tried to dissuade him.

“I’ve had no face-to-face contact with anybody, I’ve had no phone calls from anybody, not only my colleagues but not from the White House either,” he told The Hill.

Grassley has made investigations and oversight a priority throughout his career. As the Judiciary Committee chairman, he funnels a chunk of his resources into a seven-member team that is tasked almost exclusively with investigations — a rare set-up on Capitol Hill.

He operated a similar investigative unit with committee resources when he chaired the Senate Finance Committee.

One of his most high-profile investigations was of the gun-walking operation conducted by the Obama Justice Department, code named “Fast and Furious,” that was linked to a firearm used in the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010.

It became a major political headache for the Obama administration and led to former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderOregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up MORE being held in contempt by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for failing to share documents.

Grassley can be a partisan player.

Democrats excoriated him last year for refusing to hold confirmation hearings for President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTop nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report Prosecutors face legal challenges over obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases Biden makes early gains eroding Trump's environmental legacy MORE’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It was a rare instance when Democrats accused the senior Iowa senator of extreme partisanship.

He has sided with Trump at times in criticizing the FBI. Specifically, he has pressed the FBI on its surveillance activities during the 2016 campaign, appearing to pursue the president’s allegation that he was wiretapped.

With Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) but without his committee’s ranking member, Feinstein, he has asked the government to turn over any surveillance applications made by the FBI or the Justice Department in the course of the Russia investigation.

He also hammered former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe — now the deputy director — for what he saw as conflicts of interest stemming from his wife’s acceptance of political donations from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE.

Some Republicans worry that Grassley’s investigation of Comey’s firing could give Democrats a platform to criticize the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.) made clear at the end of 2016, as allegations were ramping up that Russia interfered in the presidential election, that he wanted the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is headed by his close ally Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam MORE (R-N.C.), to take the lead.

When Grassley announced his committee would take a major role as well, it left some GOP colleagues grumbling that he had been pushed into it by Feinstein or more junior GOP members of his committee.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah), a former chairman of the panel, said he did not know of any Republicans who saw a need to investigate Comey’s firing.

“They want a political piece of the action,” said another GOP colleague who requested anonymity to comment on the motives of Judiciary Committee members.

Grassley met with Burr about six weeks ago to coordinate their efforts. Mueller’s office also gave the Judiciary panel the go-ahead to grill Manafort and Trump Jr. in a public hearing.

Stephen Kohn, a lifelong Democrat and founding partner of the nonpartisan law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, which represents federal whistleblowers, and who has worked with Grassley for 25 years, said he represents the gold standard of impartial oversight on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve been around a long time and I can tell you other senator’s and congressmen’s oversight staffs are more political,” he said. “If it’s an issue against the president they support, it’s not a good place to go. They just don’t care.”

Grassley will listen to and act on the allegations of a whistleblower whether there’s a Republican or Democratic president in office, Kohn added.  

In 1984, as a junior Republican, Grassley cited Reagan Attorney General William French Smith for contempt of Congress after the Justice Department failed to turn over records about whether General Dynamics, a military contractor, submitted fraudulent cost claims to the Navy.

In an effort to block Grassley, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) refused to schedule a meeting of his subcommittee.

Grassley went around his chairman by obtaining the contempt citation through the Joint Economic Subcommittee on International Trade, Finance and Security Economics.