Senator Chuck Grassley Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

On September 7th, Donald Trump Jr. appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, largely to explain the meeting he held in Trump Tower on June 9th, 2016 in which a gaggle of Putin-connected Russians offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee is Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and the president wanted to make sure Grassley would be in the right state of mind when the senator’s committee grilled his son. So, as soon as the Trump Jr.’s appearance was confirmed, Trump Sr. offered Grassley a gift basket.

Donald Trump called a senior Republican senator from Iowa on Wednesday whose congressional committee is investigating his son, Donald Trump Jr, and promised him critical federal support for the biofuel ethanol, a key issue for the lawmaker.

Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee and a major advocate of the ethanol industry, announced on Twitter that he had received a phone call from Trump and had been assured by the US president that Trump was “pro ethanol” and was “standing by his campaign promise” to support the biofuel.

The phone call came less than a day after CNN reported that Trump’s eldest son had reached an agreement with the committee to appear in a private session and answer investigators’ questions.

This is typical of the ham-handed and transparent way that the president operates. There isn’t the slightest bit of subtlety in this kind of approach. And it makes Grassley look embarrassingly corrupt.

I don’t know if Grassley was secretly irritated to be compromised in such an obvious manner, but he didn’t act like it in public. But, of course, no one could doubt that the president was offering a quid pro quo, and the only question was whether Grassley would deliver on his end of the deal.

Even worse, last week this happened:

President Trump met Thursday with Republican senators from oil- and refinery-heavy states to hear their complaints about the federal mandate to mix ethanol into the gasoline supply.

Senators said there were no major outcomes from the meeting at the White House, but Trump asked the lawmakers to take the lead themselves on proposals to change the renewable fuel standard in a way that benefits both refineries and corn farmers.

The senators came into the meeting concerned that the Trump administration’s policies too heavily favored the ethanol industry, which pushes to require more ethanol in gasoline, increasing costs for refiners who have to either buy the ethanol or buy renewable identification number credits to comply.

In other words, it’s not clear that Trump will even keep his promise to Grassley. It appears that he’s noncommittal at the moment and willing to let “the lawmakers…take the lead themselves on proposals to change the renewable fuel standard.” I’m pretty sure that that’s less than what Grassley had the right to expect based on Trump’s promises back in late August.

And this one of the primary reasons why Trump isn’t effective as president. His word is worth nothing and he makes anyone who works with him look like some kind of crook.

Did Grassley go easy on Trump Jr.? He let him testify behind closed doors. In October, he announced that there was no longer any way to avoid Trump Jr. eventually having to testify in public.

Asked about having a public hearing with the President’s eldest son, Grassley told CNN: “Obviously, [Ranking Member, Diane] Feinstein wants to do it, and I think there’s no way of avoiding it.”

When it was revealed in November that Donald Jr. had been in contact with WikiLeaks, Grassley rushed to called the contacts “innocuous,” but he still didn’t issue any subpoenas or demand a public hearing.

Last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut lost his patience, especially because it now appears that Trump Jr. lied and withheld information at the September appearance before the Judiciary Committee:

Sen. Richard Blumenthal is asking Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to “immediately” subpoena Donald Trump Jr. for public testimony and documents.

Trump Jr., the eldest child of President Trump, was grilled by the House Intelligence Committee privately on Wednesday but has yet to testify in a public setting before any of the congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

In a letter to Grassley, the Connecticut Democrat said only after a subpoena followed by public testimony and documents will the “American people […] feel certain that Mr. Trump, Jr. has been fully forthcoming.”

Blumenthal cites “stunning” reports recently — including Twitter messages Trump Jr. exchanged with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign — that suggest collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a private interview in September he corresponded with the groups during the campaign, but only revealed the messages after a story about them by the Atlantic last month.

“Though he claimed to be fully cooperating with the Judiciary Committee investigation, Mr. Trump, Jr. did not initially turn over these communications. […] Only after he was questioned under oath did he reveal the existence,” of them, Blumenthal writes to Grassley, and the committee has been unable to ask him about the messages since.

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the fate of ethanol is tied to the president’s level of satisfaction with Grassley’s ability and willingness to shield his son from scrutiny. And Trump really doesn’t care if this is glaringly obvious or that it makes Grassley look like a kept man.

You can’t make deals with Trump because he rarely delivers, loves to break promises and engage in extortion, and he’ll make you look like a criminal without giving it a second thought.

If Grassley would actually have a public hearing for Donald Jr., maybe he’d look like he has some independence and integrity. For now, it doesn’t look like that at all.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at