U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the committee's ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., confer Wednesday as FBI Director James Comey testifies before the committee's hearing.

AP

Quit grasping at straws, Sen. Grassley. 

Local prosecutors and sheriffs are politically elected officials throughout the U.S. Even judges in Illinois must tour the campaign circuit begging for donations and touting ideological positions.

Neither direct election nor political appointment can fully insulate the American judicial system from politics. And yet, congressional Republicans -- including Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley -- are disingenuously aghast that a couple FBI agents held political opinions. Like anything else, law and justice are inherently human activities. Only clearly defined ethics, and a commitment to truth, stand between fair application of the law and rank cronyism. 

For weeks, Grassley has pressed FBI brass for more details about text messages sent by two agents. Agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page exchanged text messages expressing opposition to President Donald Trump's candidacy. In stoking this made-up furor that's run rampant in the House, Grassley is marching in dangerous territory. Suddenly, simply expressing concern about a presidential candidate -- a widespread one even among Republicans, mind you -- is grounds for a congressional probe.

Of course, the faux rage among congressional Republicans has nothing to do with Strzok and Page. This is about sowing confusion and undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the election. It's about a prolonged effort, led by the White House, to delegitimize the FBI and anyone who doesn't blindly follow. It's about feeding the alternate realities at Fox News and Breitbart. It's a politically motivated preemptive strike against Mueller, should his investigation draw even closer to the president. 

Mueller, keenly aware of the political environment, immediately sacked Strzok and Page upon learning of the texts. 

Yes, Strzok and Page did express concerns about Trump in 2015 and 2016. Yes, they were involved in the investigation into the emails of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But a personal political belief does not, and must never, constitute enough evidence to prove conflict of interest or corruption on its own. U.S. citizens have every right to think for themselves. Only when those beliefs taint their commitment to fact and law does it constitute wrongdoing.

In this instance, Grassley is the guilty party. 

Don't forget, scores of lifelong Republicans, including the party's most seasoned foreign diplomats, publicly railed against Trump's nationalist rhetoric and willingness to operate outside of objective reality. Trump's entire campaign was constructed on taking a wrecking ball to deeply rooted bureaucratic norms. Since his election, he's run roughshod over post-Nixon definitions of corruption, from nepotism to pay-to-play. He's weakened 70-year-old relationships with America's closest allies. He's stoked right-wing nationalism and racial resentment.

On these counts, for better or worse, Trump has accomplished what he set out to do. Most reasonable Americans should be concerned with Trump's attack on basic domestic and international norms. That concern should become full-blown angst as, day by day, Trump's own insecurities about his legitimacy paralyzes the government's ability to ensure against future attacks on American elections. 

Throughout this long, painful year, Grassley has remained a good Republican soldier. Iowa's senior U.S. senator continues to make the mother of false equivalencies and demand probes of Trump's vanquished political opponent, Clinton. Now, he's caving to his party's win-at-all-cost right wing, which considers anyone who doesn't pledge allegiance to Trump an enemy. 

But allegiance to the president isn't a requirement for an FBI agent nor a U.S. senator. Elected officials and bureaucrats alike are expected to carry out their duties as directed by the law and the U.S. Constitution, regardless for whom they voted. Nowhere does it say membership requires kissing Trump's ring. 

Loyalty pledges should be left for tyrants. 

Such a requirement would be the end of an open, law-bound republic as we know it. Yet, solely concerned with protecting the White House, Grassley seems unfazed about the damage this charade is doing to his country.  

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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