Government

Sen. Chuck Grassley dismisses criticism of how he's handled Trump firings of inspectors general

Iowa senator says it's partisan politics, that he's been consistent

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, watches as senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks with his father-in-law, President Donald Tru
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, watches as senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks with his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, during a December 2018 bill-signing ceremony at the White House. (Washington Post)

Criticism of his efforts to hold President Donald Trump accountable for dismissing inspectors general is an inside-the- Beltway issue fueled more by partisanship than an accurate reflection of his 40-year record of oversight, Sen. Chuck Grassley said Thursday.

Grassley is under fire for not doing more than writing letters objecting to Trump’s removal of inspectors general. Under the law, the president must provide Congress a “detailed written explanation” of why an inspector general is being dismissed 30 days before dismissing the federal watchdogs.

The president citing a lack of confidence for removing an inspector general didn’t cut it with Grassley.

“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute,” he wrote.

The criticism he’s facing is very similar, Grassley said, to what he faced when he investigated President Barack Obama’s firing of an inspector general in 2009.

Asked whether the criticism is warranted, Grassley said “it’s pretty much limited to inside-the-Beltway criticism, and I think the criticism comes from Democrats more than Republicans.”

“I don’t seem to be doing a good enough job for Democrats when we have a Republican president, but when I do exactly the same thing when we have a Democrat president, I don’t get the help out of them that they expect when we have a Republican president,” he said.

“I think I’ve been pretty consistent in this through all of my efforts to be impartial of whether or not I find a Democrat or Republican president not faithfully executing the laws.”

Grassley said he is accustomed to the criticism, including its partisan nature. If anything, he said, he’s become more aggressive in his advocacy and defense of inspectors general as a committee chairman — previously of the Justice and now Finance committee — with more staff to conduct oversight.

Inspectors general are independent, nonpartisan watchdogs appointed by the president to audit federal agencies and investigate cases of misconduct, fraud and waste, ensuring a department is operating legally.

In the past two months, Trump has fired or replaced five inspectors general: the one investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; the one at the Department of Transportation investigating allegations of favoritism by Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; one in the intelligence community who gave Congress the complaint that touched off Trump’s impeachment; the one overseeing coronavirus spending, replacing him with an administration loyalist; and one at the Department of Health and Human Services who documented shortages of personal protective equipment.

Grassley acknowledged the White House can argue the president has constitutional authority to hire, fire and make appointments as well as question congressional intent in inspectors general legislation.

“But do they understand the spirit of the law and the independence (that) inspector generals ought to have — not whether or not they might be friendly to an administration or not?” Grassley said.

It’s not Grassley versus the president — regardless of party, he said. It’s the responsibility of Congress to make sure the executive branch faithfully executes the law.

“I see inspectors general as part of that,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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