This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
President-elect Donald Trump is considering Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a former military pilot, to serve as the civilian head of the Air Force, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.
Stewart, who starts his third term in January, has been in talks with the Trump transition team about taking on the role of secretary of the Air Force, according to knowledgeable sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The secretary oversees more than 660,000 active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian members of the Air Force.
While there are other candidates for the job, Trump has shown a fondness for former and current military leaders in his picks so far three retired generals have been named to key posts giving a boost to Stewart's chances.
Stewart, who declined to comment, is a retired Air Force major who flew helicopters and the B-1B bomber, claiming three world-speed records, including the record for the fastest nonstop flight around the world. He is also a best-selling author, having written 18 books, including the story of Elizabeth Smart's infamous kidnapping, told in her own words.
Stewart ended up backing Trump for president even though he had once called him "our Mussolini" during the GOP primaries, referring to the 20th century fascist dictator of Italy.
Stewart then was backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, though he said he might back Trump if he became the GOP nominee.
"I'm hoping that he's not," Stewart told a group of University of Utah students in March. "I'm hoping that Marco Rubio is [the GOP nominee], and I know that's a harder challenge right now. I haven't really considered if Donald is. It's always been my intention and my wishes to have Marco."
Later, when Trump sewed up the party's nomination, Stewart said he would vote for Trump, according to the St. George News.
"It is very clear that Donald Trump is a better choice than Hillary Clinton," Stewart said.
More recently, Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed news reports that the CIA had concluded that Russian hacking of political party emails during the election was aimed at helping Trump's candidacy.
Stewart called the reports "B.S."
Later, reports said the FBI concurred with the CIA assessment that the Russian hacking was intended to aid Trump.
If Stewart is nominated, he's likely to pick up quick support from fellow Utah Republicans.
"We believe that Rep. Chris Stewart is eminently qualified to serve as secretary of the Air Force," said an aide to Gov. Gary Herbert, speaking on condition of anonymity because the choice has not been formalized. "We support his nomination and ask that the Trump transition team give him due consideration."
Should Stewart be nominated and confirmed, it would create a vacancy in Utah's 2nd Congressional District seat. The Governor's Office would have to call a special election to fill the office.