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George Pyle: Just as well you didn't see the editorial that got away

Published May 21, 2017 4:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will."

— Stephen Colbert, on President George W. Bush, White House Correspondents Dinner, 2006

Unlike many creators of fiction and drama, newspaper writers seldom have a slush pile of unpublished work lying around. There are too few of us, too many things happening and too much space to fill for much of anything that gets written to then get set aside.

So there was an odd moment the other day when I realized that an editorial I had written on Wednesday could not be published on Friday because of something that happened on Thursday.

It was going to be about Rep. Jason Chaffetz and his moves to investigate the firing of FBI Director James Comey. It found things to praise in the congressman's actions, belated though they may have been. And it wasn't going to work.

Chaffetz had been widely criticized for not bringing the same interest in the alleged wrongdoings of the Trump administration that he had always shown for any hint of a problem in the Obama/Clinton years. That lack of enthusiasm for going after his fellow Republican was one of the things that observers thought was behind his totally unexpected announcement a month ago that he would not seek re-election in 2018.

Then we started to see some glimmers of the old Jason, the House Oversight Committee chair who seemed so comfortable bringing the heat to Obama administration officials. He said the Justice Department's Inspector General should look into Comey's firing. That the House Intelligence Committee was the proper place to ask questions about allegations that the president had wantonly, or foolishly, told some high-placed Russian visitors something about people spying on the Islamic State.

Then the congressman from Utah's 3rd District became more active still. Said he wanted, and was ready to subpoena, Comey's own records of his dealings with the president. Said Comey would be called to testify next week before his House Oversight Committee. Made a joke on Twitter about how he hadn't yet spoken with Comey to arrange that meeting. The most wanted man in town, the chairman tweeted, "evidently has a new #."

So we prepared an editorial praising Chaffetz for his rediscovered passion for congressional oversight of the executive.

"The chances of Chaffetz becoming part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem may, we dare hope, be greatly enhanced by the fact that he had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018," this draft said. "Without Chaffetz having to weigh how every utterance, every hearing, every subpoena would impact his immediate political future, there is reason to believe that any investigation he is in charge of might truly go wherever the evidence leads."

The editorial continued:

"Another possible advantage of a Chaffetz-led probe, assuming it finds anything, is that the chairman is already such a favorite at Fox News that he, in an Only-Nixon-Could-Go-To-China sense, might be just the one to break it to Trump's core supporters that the president has done a bad thing, or many bad things, and needs to go."

Well, I saved a version of that "Only Nixon" bit for the editorial that was published Friday's Tribune. And the opening epigram from the original draft — Michael Corleone's "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." — survived in a blog post.

But the whole idea of praising Chaffetz had to be scrapped for an editorial taking him to task for deciding to leave not just his chairmanship, but Congress, as of June 30. Which made the possibility that he would do anything to help America through this difficult time utterly moot.


Chaffetz's congressional career is a victim — and an illustration — of how even so-called conservatives such as the Fox News darling have given up the role that the authors of the Constitution saw as their key to power: Loyalty to the institution in which they serve and resistance to any move to make that institution subservient to any other institution. Even if it is run by a member of the same political party.

"The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others," James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 51. "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

But Chaffetz's ambition, formidable as it was, did not counteract Trump's. It collapsed under the weight of it. Which is what happens when you put party first, self second and the real institutions of government a distant third.

George Pyle, the Tribune editorial page editor, is happy that his new photograph makes him look a bit less deer-in-the-headlights.







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