bleeding heartland

Efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to pressure Vice President Mike Pence were the focus of the House Select Committee’s televised hearings investigating the insurgency held on June 16. Witness after witness testified on the illegal and unconstitutional conspiracy to overturn the Electoral College count on January 6, 2021.

Several documents outlining the plan to keep Trump in power foresaw a possible role for U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who (as acting Senate president) would have presided over Senate proceedings that day in Pence’s absence.

In a press release dated June 16 and social media postsDemocratic Senate candidate Mike Franken called on Grassley to “be clear” and answer four questions related to the events of Jan. 6.

Grassley and his team have repeatedly said the senator was not recruited to derail the Electoral College count and was unaware of any memos or PowerPoint presentations outlining the coup. When Bleeding Heartland asked about Franken’s questions on June 16, the senator’s campaign spokesman slammed the Democrat for supposedly spreading a “conspiracy theory.”

The reality is that no one has done more than Grassley to make people wonder if he was recruited to help Trump stay in power.

The starting point for Franken’s questions were Grassley’s questions widely quoted statement to reporters on Jan. 5, 2021: “Well, first of all, I’ll be – if the vice president isn’t here and we don’t expect him to be here, I’ll be presiding over the Senate.”

Grassley Staff quickly returned to this comment, saying the senator only meant that he would preside if Pence was not present for part of the debate in the Senate. But documents released later showed that Trump allies relied on “Chuck Grassley or another high-ranking Republican” to refuse to count electoral votes from certain states that Joe Biden was carrying.

Frank wants Grassley to clarify:

  • What was the program for January 6?
  • Why didn’t you expect Vice President Pence to be there?
  • Were you aware of any plans or plots to cancel the 2020 elections?
  • What would you have done if Pence hadn’t shown up?

Taylor Foy, director of communications for the Grassley U.S. Senate office, referred me to campaign staff for a policy reaction, but noted, “Maybe Mike should read the Bleeding Heartland cover on this issue!” (Repeatedly I have cited official denials by the senator or his staff.)

Campaign spokesperson Michaela Sundermann responded to my request as follows:

You previously reported on this and included statements from Senator Grassley’s office noting that Senator Grassley was never approached about a plan for Jan. 6. You know the answers to these questions as well as I do. Moreover, it has been widely debunked, in particular by Nic Fandos, New York Times writer and Aaron Blake, Washington Post writer. Even a former Obama administration staffer called Roll call to delete dishonest tweet in real time to fight the fake news behind this conspiracy theory. It is interesting that Mike Franken does not read your report or ignores it. What’s even more interesting is his motive behind spreading this conspiracy theory: is he intentionally lying to voters? Or is he really so lazy that he doesn’t do his homework?

Actually, I don’t know the answer to Franken’s fourth question. I don’t recall Grassley ever specifying how he would have presided over the Electoral College count, had Pence been absent. He had told reporters on January 5 that opposing electoral votes was a “legal process” and that he would “listen to what all of my colleagues have to say during this debate” before deciding how to vote.

I have always given Grassley the benefit of the doubt when reporting explosive evidence that emerged during the January 6 inquest: John Eastman’s Notea PowerPoint shown to some Republican senators January 4, a one December 2020 email from lawyer Kenneth Chesebro to Rudy Giuliani.

I find the senator’s denials plausible, as Trump’s inner circle might not have fully trusted him. Grassley had acknowledged on Dec. 14 (when the Electoral College met) that Biden would be president. And in the end, he voted to certify the Electoral College count.

But it’s no surprise that Franken (and many others) are skeptical that Grassley was “never approached” by putschists who specifically mentioned him in some of their roadmaps.

Why is it hard for many to believe the senator was not in Trump’s scheme? Here are some reasons; this list could easily be twice as long.

1. Grassley did not refute Trump’s lies about the 2020 election in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.

2. He did not condemn Trump’s efforts to pressure state officials to change the outcome in his favor, such as his Jan. 2 phone call with the Georgian secretary of state.

3. Grassley has not spoken out against Biden’s plans to reject electoral votes from certain states. On the contrary, he indicated on January 5 he had not decided how he would vote in the Senate debate on contested voters.

4. Before and after Jan. 6, Grassley carefully avoided saying that Biden rightfully won every state that gave him his electoral votes.

5. In letters to voters sent in early 2021, Grassley drew false equivalences between Trump’s efforts to stay in power and isolated Democratic complaints following the 2000, 2004 and 2016 presidential elections.

6. Grassley denied mountains of evidence showing that Trump pressured senior Justice Department officials to help him reverse Biden’s election victory. Instead, he covered up this abuse of power by asking GOP staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee to make this staggering claim last October: “The available evidence shows that President Trump has done what we expect of a president on a matter of this importance: he listened to his senior advisers and followed their advice and recommendations.”

7. Also in October 2021, Grassley accepted the former president’s endorsement at a rally in Des Moines where “Most of Trump’s speech was devoted to his baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen.”

8. In a rare moment of truth, Trump said of Grassley at that Des Moines rally“When I needed him to help me, he was always there. […] He was with us the whole way, whenever I needed something.”

9. Grassley touted Trump’s endorsement in paid campaign advertising ahead of the June 7 Republican primary.

So spare me the outrage of a campaign spokesperson, who asks why Franken is “spreading this conspiracy theory” and suggesting he is “intentionally lying to voters.” An American above all others spreads conspiracies and lies: the man who gave Grassley his “Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Top image: Screenshot of the Grassley campaign ad that aired in May and June 2022.

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