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Tribune Editorial: Chaffetz walks away just when he had the chance to matter

Published May 20, 2017 10:06 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Just when it looked like Jason Chaffetz might have an opportunity to make his service in Congress memorable for having done something real.

Just when the planets seemed to be aligned in a way that would allow Utah's 3rd District congressman to put his telegenic skills and his position of power to use in the service of his constituents, his party and his country.

That's when he walks.


Chaffetz stunned everyone a month ago with his announcement that he would not seek re-election in 2018. And almost from that moment there were hints and rumors that he wasn't going to make it that far.

It was widely reported that Chaffetz would resign from Congress early, perhaps to start ramping up a run for governor in 2020. Or to get a gig on Fox News. Or maybe both.

One suggestion that such an early exit might not be in the cards after all was Chaffetz's belated interest in actually investigating, in his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, the various allegations of wrongdoing by and around President Trump.

First it was his demand for a memo reportedly written by recently ousted FBI Director James Comey, a note that documented an alleged attempt by President Trump to call the FBI off an ongoing investigation of Trump's short-time national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Then came word that Comey had been called to testify next week before Chaffetz's committee.

All that seemed a welcome change from his previous unwillingness to investigate anything Trump, in contrast to his unconcealed glee at every opportunity to probe anything to do with Barack Obama or, especially, Hillary Clinton.

His lack of any stomach for a look into Trump's shortcomings seemed the most logical explanation for Chaffetz's sudden decision to retire from the field. And even a glimmer of hope that he might find his courage as the end neared was, well, encouraging.

If Chaffetz chose, he could have pursued various Trump administration scandals free from the distractions of running a campaign, raising money or any fear of burning his bridges with House leadership, the administration or anyone else.

All that hope fell apart Thursday when Chaffetz announced that he was, indeed, resigning his seat in Congress as of the end of next month.

While that might help Utah officials plan and carry out a special election to fill the post, it clearly doesn't leave Chaffetz enough time in office to really pursue any of the many and growing aspects of the current administration that clearly need pursuing. All that will fall to his successor in the chairman's position, while his replacement in Congress will be far too inexperienced to pick up any of that slack.

So there Chaffetz goes. Out the door. Leaving a history that is not so much a list of accomplishments as a litany of partisanship, missed opportunities and embarrassment. Benghazi. Phony charts designed to embarrass Planned Parenthood. Benghazi. Trying to impeach the head of the IRS. Benghazi. Having the Department of Homeland Security tell him to stop leaking sensitive information. Becoming a favorite target of John Oliver and Stephen Colbert. And, of course, Benghazi.

In a farewell letter posted Thursday on his congressional website, Chaffetz properly thanks his constituents for the "rare honor and privilege" of serving them. He goes on at some length about how being a member of Congress is a strain on family life. He makes a good case that being in Congress ought to be a temporary pursuit, not a lifelong career.

But there is no list of achievements or accomplishments. Because, when you stop to think about it, he doesn't have any. Leading the investigations into the current administration and, in pure Only-Nixon-Could-Go-To-China style, breaking the news of whatever he might find to the Fox News crowd, could have been his legacy.

Alas. It was not to be.

Jason, we hardly knew ye.






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