U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s long and leading advocacy for protection of whistleblowers — insiders who confidentially report fraud, waste, mismanagement or misconduct — might well have been put to the test the last week or two.
After all, the senior senator from Iowa is a Republican, and the man in the eye of the nation’s biggest whistleblower storm, President Trump, is the GOP standard-bearer.
In response to a whistleblower’s report that Trump abused his presidential power by pressuring the leader of a foreign government (Ukraine) to investigate a possible election rival (Joe Biden), the president has pulled out all the stops in attacking the unidentified whistleblower, depicting himself as a political martyr and warning of a civil war. All of it could well undermine the foundation of whistleblowing programs everywhere.
Trump’s personal attacks (against an unidentified target), the unsubstantiated allegations (such as the whistleblower is a traitor who had only “second-hand” information) and the claim that he is “entitled” to know and even interview the whistleblower (whom he calls his “accuser”) clearly demonstrate either ignorance or disrespect for the process.
A whistleblower is not an investigator. A whistleblower is not a prosecutor. A whistleblower reports, and then it’s up to investigators and prosecutors to dig deeper for the facts. Think of a whistleblower as a hunting dog, pointing at what might not otherwise be visible; what happens next is up to the hunter.
Chuck Grassley gets all that. For decades, he has promoted and defended whistleblowers through legislation and his public statements. But until now, the issue did not involve the president of the United States — and the leader of his own political party.
It might have taken a tick or two longer than if the subject of the report had a D behind his or her name, but Grassley has spoken out in defense of the whistleblower process, even as it involves Trump.
“This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected. We should always work to respect whistleblowers,” Grassley said on Tuesday. “Complaints based on second-hand information should not be rejected out of hand, but they do require additional leg work to get at the facts and evaluate the claim’s credibility.”
His position reflects a clear break with many if not most of his Republican colleagues and the president’s surrogates, some of whom are defending Trump even to the point of making stuff up. But this is not the first time Grassley has broken with the party line, and it’s likely not the last.
The political news website Politico further quoted Grassley regarding questions asked at confirmation hearings. “They all say they’re going to respect whistleblowers but they end up not doing it. Every Cabinet person that comes in is well intended about protecting whistleblowers and then they’re treated like a skunk at a picnic.”
The news media are not getting a free pass from the senator. He criticized outlets that reported that the whistleblower is a CIA officer. Such disclosures by the media “don’t serve the public interest,” he said, “even if the conflict sells more papers or attracts clicks.” (The New York Times and Washington Post were the first to carry that limited identification. That information was subsequently included in articles by The Associated Press, whose reports have appeared in the TH.)
No one can predict for sure what will come out of the investigation of the whistleblower’s complaints, the impeachment inquiry and the international and domestic fallout. But it is heartening to see the Iowan Grassley put partisan pressure aside and remain an outspoken if lonely defender of whistleblowers.