This may come as news to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and many of his fellow Republicans: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is a law enforcement agency. So is the Internal Revenue Service.
Most people already think of the FBI as an elite policing agency. But the IRS also investigates crime beyond tax evasion and fraud. Organized crime, drug trafficking, illegal gaming, money laundering and public corruption are just a few examples.
Republicans, including Grassley, claim to be champions of law enforcement and horrified by violence in America.
In fact, at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, most Republican senators entirely ignored or barely mentioned the actual focus of the hearing. Instead, they put on a show of how worried they are about violence and threats against police, judges, anti-abortion institutions and residents of certain cities that happen to be run by Democrats.
“The baseline is rising — higher rates of violent crime are becoming the new norm,” Grassley said. “Some of the main causes of this rise in violent crime are anti-police rhetoric, de-policing efforts, progressive prosecution, bail reform, defund the police movements. We talked about the crisis faced by law enforcement officers last week in this very committee in our hearing about attacks on police.”
This isn’t a new phenomenon, by any means. In Congress, it often appears that two or more hearings are happening simultaneously, with each party pursuing entirely separate and almost unrelated agendas. It’s probably fair, for example, to say some Democrats tend to be less concerned about vandalism of anti-abortion family planning centers and protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes than they are about assassinations of doctors and health care workers who provide abortions.
What made this particular display so striking was that the hearing was supposed to be about threats, bullying and intimidation of elections officials and workers. As we heard during the Jan. 6 select committee hearings, some election workers targeted directly by former President Trump had to leave their homes for months because of threats and harassment.
One would think the security of elections and the people who enforce the laws and do the work of democracy would be, if not equally important, then at least of some interest to U.S. senators regardless of party. To make a long story short, it’s not.
More to the point, some of these same senators are now engaged in what Grassley might call “anti-law enforcement rhetoric” after the FBI carried out a search of former President Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, apparently looking for classified documents. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, tweeted repeatedly about the politicization, corruption and “weaponization” of the FBI.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican who fist-pumped his support of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol rioters, tweeted that the FBI action was an “unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Grassley engaged in a particularly bizarre line of fearmongering against the IRS. He asked Thursday on Fox & Friends: “Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot some small-business person in Iowa?”
The remark was in response to a question about legislation approved last week by Congress that would spend about $80 billion on tax enforcement.
It’s not hard to whip up hatred of the IRS, obviously. But in my experience (and I actually have had a little, due to an error that deposited our tax payment in the wrong account one year), the IRS sends letters, not strike forces. They tend to seize bank accounts and garnish wages from behind a computer, not an assault rifle. Meanwhile, NBC News reports the agency is so underfunded that workers have had to bring in their own office supplies, as if they were school teachers.
Most people who work at the IRS, the accountants and office workers and computer techs and even the auditors, are unarmed. A few IRS agents whose work involves investigation of dangerous criminals like gangsters and drug dealers apparently carry guns, just like police officers. And thanks to Grassley and other self-professed “protectors” of law enforcement, they will be less safe.
Kathie Obradovich is the editor-in-chief of the Iowa Capital Dispatch, which first published this essay.