Iowa’s senior senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined me this morning:
HH: Pleased to welcome back now the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Senator Grassley, thank you for joining me this morning.
CG: Hugh, I’m always glad to be with you, and you’ve had me on frequently here recently. And thank you for doing that. I like talking to you.
HH: Well, I appreciate your candor and your responsiveness. Let’s get right to it. Will the hearing on Monday be televised?
HH: And will there only be two witnesses on Monday?
HH: Who’s going to go first?
CG: Oh, we haven’t made up our mind on that, yet, but I assume that Dr. Ford would.
HH: Has Dr. Ford accepted, and she’s agreed to come?
CG: No. We have reached out to her in the last 36 hours three of four times by email, and we’ve not heard from them, so it kind of raises the question do they want to, do they want to come to the public hearing or not? And the reason we’re having the public hearing is obviously, well, number one is accusations like this deserve consideration and looking into, and that’s what the purpose of the hearing is. And we wouldn’t be having this hearing if it wasn’t for the fact that Dr. Ford told the Washington Post and other people publicly that she wanted to testify. And we also have Judge Kavanaugh. Even before we requested him to testify, he said he was willing to testify. As of Sunday night, I had that message. So we still haven’t heard from Dr. Ford. So do they want to have the hearing or not? We’re delaying the vote, strictly, to get all the facts out on the table.
HH: If Dr. Ford declines to attend, will Judge Kavanaugh appear anyway?
CG: First of all, we’ve got to look at why we’re having the hearing. We’re having the hearing because the accusations, accusations that legitimately ought to be looked into about a candidate for the Supreme Court. And it was raised questions what would be the purpose of the hearing if Dr. Ford doesn’t want to respond?
HH: Assume for a moment that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh come. Will each senator on the committee receive one or two rounds of questions?
CG: I can’t answer that at this point, because we haven’t worked that out. But it’s something we generally work out in a bipartisan way. And so far, we haven’t had a lot of communication with the Democrat staff, because you know, we’re taking testimonials from Judge Kavanaugh last night, and for transcript, like we normally we do when you follow up on an FBI research that they do and there’s some holes left. And of course, the FBI didn’t know about this when they reported to the White House the information that they collected for the White House to make a determination if Judge Kavanaugh should go, be presented to the Senate. Then we fill that in what isn’t there, and something new comes up like Dr. Ford news comes up. Then we have our own investigators fill in those gaps. So we went to Judge Kavanaugh last night. It’s usually a bipartisan cooperation. Our efforts to ask questions, and they didn’t want to participate. So I, when you want to get all the information out on the table, why would they miss any opportunity to participate? And then this further aggravates the fact that we’ve contacted Dr. Ford’s lawyer for Dr. Ford to do a transcript. You would think get all this information out. That’s the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do here is get to the bottom of whether or not these accusations are, have to be evaluated.
HH: Senator Grassley, do you believe your Democratic colleagues are obstructing a full and fair inquiry into Dr. Ford’s accusations?
CG: I would rather put it in a bigger scale. We’ve seen all the arguments about documents going on for two and a half months. I think that some of their requests have been outrageous and stalling, and particularly the fact that so many of them said they’re going to vote no. How much more do you need to know to vote no? Now in regard to Dr. Ford, even if they were stalling, if I wanted to say they’re stalling, and I’m not saying that in this case, but I do say it about the document request and all that. But on this instance, I’ve got a responsibility to make sure these accusations are investigated by my staff.
HH: Now Senator Grassley, if Dr. Ford doesn’t respond but then subsequently responds that she will accept a hearing later, will you allow her or her lawyer to control the timing of her appearance?
CG: We’re taking things step by step, but I don’t know why you would need more time. She wants to talk to us. She told us she wanted to talk to us. And you’d think that the sooner, the better.
HH: Now it has been suggested that because all members of the Republican side are white men that you ought to appoint a special counsel to conduct the questioning of Professor Ford should she appear, say someone like former Senator Ayotte, who was New Hampshire attorney general. Any consideration to that, Senator Grassley?
CG: I would say that everything should be considered now. And all those things are being taken into consideration. So I don’t, I don’t really, in other words, you’re raising legitimate questions that are still on our minds, and so these details are still being worked out.
HH: Have you discussed, there is a great concern, because all of the Republicans are men and some are older, you know, Ben Sasse, I don’t think, is shaving, yet, but many of you are older, that there will be insensitivity or indifference to Professor Ford? Do you think that is a real danger to the Republicans?
CG: Well, journalists are very insensitive to Chuck Grassley, because I’m the only chairman when it says Chairman Grassley, chairman of the aging, or chairman of the Judiciary Committee, 84 years old, they never say that Alexander, chairman of the Health Committee, is 64 years old. So there’s already discrimination against me, so there is a possible discrimination out there. And we have to consider all those things. We hope that everyone in the room treats the hearing with the seriousness that it deserves, and including the public.
HH: Now when do you expect the full committee to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination whether or not the hearing goes forward on Monday?
CG: I would like to give you a definite answer, but I can’t. We’re going to take this step by step. I’d have to know what comes out of the hearing to make a judgment like that.
HH: Have any Republican senators, Republican senators, indicated to you that they will not be voting for Judge Kavanaugh as of today?
CG: No. And that would be very, every, everybody I know says wait until we get done with the hearing to make any judgment. And some people are actually very statesmanlike in how they approach this. You ought to wait until the hearing’s over, not only the hearing we’re having Monday, but the hearing we had for four days last week. You need to take that all into consideration. I think somebody, Senator Collins, I know, because she’s asked my staff to help her, for two months now, she’s been reading a lot of the writings of Kavanaugh and all that sort of stuff, taking it very seriously. I hope all members take it as seriously as I know she is.
HH: What will go into your own evaluation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, should she appear on Monday?
CG: The credibility of it, and how well she can remember facts from that far back.
HH: Will the FBI…
CG: We’re talking about, you understand we’re talking about 35 years ago. I’d hate to ask, have somebody ask me what I did 35 years ago. And I think I look at it this way. Accusers deserve to be heard. And after they’re heard, we also have a responsibility to hear Judge Kavanaugh. And I want to hear from Dr. Ford. And she deserves to be heard, because these are serious accusations. And I would surely hope she’d come Monday, I mean, after all, read all the detail she put in the Washington Post. She surely prepared. She hired a lawyer, I understand, back in August. Why, why would you hire an lawyer back in August? Anyway…
HH: Can you assure, can you assure Dr. Ford and her counsel that she will be treated respectfully, graciously and be allowed to testify at length without interruption or badgering?
CG: Absolutely. I think I run, I have a reputation for running the committee that way.
HH: Yes, you do. And in fact, even when the protesters jump…do you expect more protesters if Judge Kavanaugh shows up on Monday if he is testifying? Do you expect we’ll have a repeat of last week?
CG: Yes, and that’s their Constitutional right to do it. They don’t have, they have a Constitutional right to speak. They don’t have a Constitutional right to interfere with the committee, so that’s why the police take them out. So I think that I, as far as the demonstrators are concerned, I’m going to be laser-focused on an even-handed and a fair hearing. And so I’ll keep the hearing going while the police take them out. I tell the police, you do your job, I’m not going to do like a lot of chairmen do, shut down the whole committee meeting until the room is empty. I want to use the time as efficiently as I can.
HH: If Dr. Ford agrees to come, Chairman Grassley, will the FBI interview her first?
CG: The FBI, the FBI investigation of Judge Kavanaugh is closed. The FBI is not doing any further investigation. And there’s a bunch of misunderstandings about how the FBI works in regard to gathering information. It’s a gatherer of information for the White House. They give it to us to make the evaluation. They don’t do the evaluation. They gather information, present it to the White House. The White House goes through that, decides that Judge so and so is, should be presented to the Senate. Then all that information comes up to us. And our investigators go through it. It’s part of our advice and consent as a co-equal branch of government.
HH: Has anyone suggested that there will be a third witness of any sort on Monday’s hearing if it happens?
CG: Not at this point. I don’t expect it, because we have two people that have, want to testify, and we ought to, in our role as advice and consent, get all the information out. And we’ve got two people involved, and two people ought to be able to present their stories, and then we’ll have to be the jury.
HH: Now according to newspaper accounts, Dr. Ford has said Mr. Mark Judge was in the room at the time of the assault. Mr. Judge has denied remembering anything like that. Should Mr. Judge testify?
CG: At this point, we have two people testifying. That’s all I can tell you.
HH: When one of your Democratic colleagues suggest, as I expect will happen, that Judge Kavanaugh take a lie detector test, what will be your response as the chairman of the committee?
CG: I think that’s going to be a Judge Kavanaugh decision whether or not he wants to take a lie detector test.
HH: If he says he will not, will you hold that against him?
CG: Well, you know, there’s, there’s, what you’re asking really isn’t standard procedure.
HH: I’m just anticipating Cory Booker or one of your more dramatic Senator Spartacus people will demand that he take a lie detector test.
CG: Well, he’s under oath in front of us. And I don’t know what more you can expect.
HH: All right. What, if the hearing airs on Monday, what is the earliest that a committee vote could be held on Judge Kavanaugh?
CG: The earliest would be the three days that the rules require us to notify for a meeting. But we aren’t making that decision now. The three day rule would apply, but when that three days would start, I would have to say I’ve got to wait until the hearing’s done.
HH: Okay, so, but it could be Thursday, then, because you’ve got to have at least three days from Monday night to…
CG: Well, you can speculate that, and you’d be speculating accurately, to the extent that speculation’s accurate, but I can’t say that, because I haven’t made up my mind.
HH: All right, now Senator Grassley, you’re very good when I chat with you, very candid. I want to go back to this issue of 11 Republican men questioning a #MeToo victim and an alleged assault victim, and wondering whether or not bringing in Kelly Ayotte or someone like that to conduct the questioning doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the optics of this will matter a great deal to the country, and we really can’t have even one Republican or one Democrat go off on someone inappropriately. Do you agree with me on that?
CG: Well, at this point, I’m just interested in getting this process going, make sure it’s handled in a fair and even-handed way. And I think the theatrics of it or public impressions of it, I’m going to leave, each individual member’s going to have to kind of make that up for themselves. I don’t think as chairman of the committee I’m in the position to do any more than lead the discussion on it. Let individuals decide what they want to do. But I think I can say to you that we all have to be respectful. And I hope my colleagues will be, too, and I expect that they will be, because I expect that the basis of your question is something that’s politically sensitive, and all of these people, including this chairman, has to be sensitive to those things.
HH: Now before I turn to judges generally, I have one suggestion for you. Because this is so sensitive especially to women and especially to younger people, Seung Min Kim is a great reporter at the Washington Post who actually understands what you do at Judiciary, follows blue slips, follows it all. Have you sat down with her? Would you give a young woman reporter from the Post an exclusive to talk to you about this for kids? What you’re doing with me is very good, but it’s a different perspective when you have a young woman reporter asking.
CG: The only thing in her favor over other journalists is she’s from Iowa.
HH: Well, there you go.
CG: Except for that, I would advise you to have her contact my press secretary.
HH: That’s a big advantage. Now to more general questions. You’ve done such an extraordinary job as chairman. You’ve set records. Will the replacement of Don McGahn as White House Counsel impact the work of your committee?
CG: Well, all I can say at this point is because you’re asking me to look ahead, and I don’t even know who might take the place, and probably I won’t know much about the person that took their place any more than I knew something about Don McGahn before his name and I started working with him. It would be hard to duplicate the great cooperation and the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation that Don McGahn had. And I hope the president is very careful to put somebody in place that can have that same effectiveness and efficiency, and picking of very good crop of people to be on the bench, both district and Circuit Court, particularly Circuit Court. They’ve been so good, because the president has given the high priority to naming judges, and the people that have come up, except for three or four, have been well-received by the United States Senate. And that’s pretty good out of about 70 people.
HH: Now there are 10 more Appeals Court judges nominated already. Will they all receive hearings and votes before the end of the year, Chairman Grassley?
CG: The answer is, I can’t answer your question here, because I’d have to have the calendar in front of me. But ever since January, we’ve set out X number of people we can hear, and get before the United States Senate, including the first Wednesday of December, I think. And what we do is every other Wednesday, we have either one or two Circuit judges, usually one, and four or five district judges, every other Wednesday for a hearing, and that’s how we move it along. And if what, if your question fits into that calendarization of these names that have come up from the White House, then the answer is yes. Otherwise…
HH: Good, good.
CG: …let’s say if you said 10, maybe 7, 8, 9 and 10 might not be considered this year. I can’t answer that for you.
HH: Do you expect any more Circuit Court nominees whose names have not already been sent to you to arrive shortly?
CG: I, I can’t answer that, because I haven’t talked to Don McGahn about it, but he’s well aware that he’s got to supply from the White House, he’s got to do the background work to get people up to us so we can do at least one or two Circuit judges every other week. And except for the month of January, I think he’s met that responsibility.
HH: It’s been extraordinary cooperation. Let me go back for a couple final questions to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Has Ranking Member Feinstein disclosed to you why she did not disclose to you the letter she received in July?
CG: Yeah, the anonymity, desire of Dr. Ford.
HH: And have you been a ranking minority member on Judiciary, Senator Grassley?
CG: Yeah, yeah.
HH: If you’d received such a letter, would you have shared it with the chairman, even if anonymity was requested?
CG: Yes. And that’s, that’s what’s wrong about this whole process. We wouldn’t have needed a public hearing like we’re going to have Wednesday if…
HH: Monday, Monday…
CG: …Senator Feinstein had shared this with me, or better yet, Dr. Ford had sent it to the chairman of the committee instead of the ranking member. We would have investigated this thing way back in July or early August, and we could have done all the background work that needed to be done to fill in what the FBI did not gather for us. And in fact, you know, I learned her name for the first time from the Washington Post, not from Dianne Feinstein.
HH: Are you sympathetic that Dr. Ford is justified and worried that she will be attacked by crazy people, by lunatics, and that her family will be threatened, and that she will be dragged, that’s the term in quotes, dragged online because of this? Do you, are you sympathetic to her concern?
CG: I’d have to say I’m very sympathetic to it. I’ve noticed how some people that are not very civil as would expect in American society by kicking the president’s press secretary out of a restaurant, or the secretary of Interior, driving them out of a restaurant, you can expect almost anything. And I would imagine Judge Kavanaugh has been subject to the same thing. We all, you know, a lot of people that listen to your program would like to think all this problem comes from Congress down to the grassroots of America. I think we all have to realize that in a period of the last 20 or 30 years, the entire American society has been a little less tolerant towards each other and less civil towards each other. And if you expect the grass…if you expect Congress to represent the people of the United States, some of that is going to show up in the Congress of the United States eventually.
HH: I noticed during the hearings that you kept asking Senator Spartacus to please wrap up what he was doing and get to the question. Do you expect more theatrics on Monday? Or do you expect a more civil, careful hearing?
CG: The latter. And let me kind of define it, although it’s not strictly parallel. But I’d like to see 21 members of our committee listen patiently to both witnesses, and kind of act like a jury, and then wait until you hear all the evidence, and then make your mind up afterwards. And I’m going to be respectful, and I hope my colleagues will be, too.
HH: Good luck getting that. Good luck in that. My very last question. Has the History Channel straightened out its problems from Chuck Grassley’s perspective?
CG: No, all you’ve got to do is turn it on Saturday like I did and listen to Mountain Men.
HH: They ought to call you up and take your advice, Senator Grassley. Has anyone from the History Channel ever called you up?
CG: No, and I think that they, they’d hang up soon after starting a conversation with me.
HH: Senator Grassley, great to talk to you. Thank you for spending so much time with me today. Good luck on Monday.
CG: Goodbye. Thank you.
End of interview.