Iowa Senator Charles Grassley has been getting a lot of press lately. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he played a prominent role in the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Grassley will continue to be in the spotlight during Senate confirmation hearings on President Trump’s nomination to fill the vacancy on the United States Supreme Court left by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.
But in addition to his role as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley is also a strong supporter of the need to protect whistleblowers, and has made that fact clear to President Trump. Throughout his career, Grassley has advocated to protect executive-branch whistleblowers from intimidation and retribution. He was a co-sponsor of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and, before that, worked to establish an appropriations rider which declared that “no money could be used to enforce any nondisclosure agreement that interferes with the right of individuals to provide information to Congress.”
At just under a month into Donald Trump's presidency, the Trump administration's stance towards whistleblower protection remains unclear. On one hand, President Trump campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” and rid Washington of bureaucratic excess. But on the other, Trump has a history of requiring nondisclosure agreements and, at least this far into his new presidency, has displayed an attitude of 'If you don’t like it, leave.'
According to Senator Grassley, one way President Trump can make good on his promise to reduce unnecessary government spending is by celebrating the role whistleblowers play in reducing and preventing government waste and fraud. Oregon Senator Rob Wyden, Grassley’s co-chair on the Senate Whistleblower Caucus, commented that President Trump “has indicated a big interest in coming up with real change, and if you look at the history of whistleblowers, this is one area where a serious effort to support whistleblowers can make a big difference.”
However, according to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, it seems unlikely that President Trump will follow Grassley’s advice. “I think this is the president who has required more nondisclosure agreements than any president in history," said McCaskill:
They’re telling people to quit if they don’t like his policies, they are trying to clamp down on people’s dissent. So that doesn’t seem like, to me, the values of somebody who is going to look after whistleblowers. But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
To demonstrate his support of government whistleblowers, Senator Grassley has made a habit of asking every president since Ronald Reagan to host a Rose Garden ceremony to honor federal agency whistleblowers who identify fraud and abuse. To date, no president has taken him up on the offer.
Recently, Grassley sent a letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn that highlights legal protections for employees of the legislative branch of government and notes that disclosures of fraud to the media are protected by federal law. This was apparently in response to reports that members of President Trump’s transition team threatened to remove inspectors general from their posts despite the requirement that Congress be given 30 days notice in writing of the reason for any such attempted removal. Senator Grassley attributed the error to President Trump's misunderstanding about the role of inspectors general and the legal requirements for their removal, and surmised that Trump’s transition team “didn’t really know about the special privilege, or special political protection, for inspectors general.”
What is clear is that if President Trump tries to reign in protections for whistleblowers, takes steps to withdraw support for whistleblowers, or attempts to undermine the role of inspectors general, the President will be hearing from Senator Grassley.
If you have questions about whistleblower lawsuits, the False Claims Act, or protection of federal whistleblowers, contact the Kansas City whistleblower attorneys at Brady & Associates for a free and confidential evaluation of your case. Call us at (913) 696-0925, or complete our online information form.