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All that stuff about the constitutional separation of powers, each of the three branches of government keeping a wary eye on the other two, doesn't mean very much if it is taken seriously only when Congress and the White House are held by different parties.

Actions displayed over the past months and years suggest that some of the more powerful members of this Congress take their oversight duties very seriously indeed when a black Democrat from Chicago is in the White House. But when a Republican, of any provenance, becomes president, you can practically feel the air go out of the room.

Looking at you, Jason Chaffetz.

Utah's precocious 3rd District congressman has made a name for himself as a diligent prober of all things Democrat, ranging from government support for Planned Parenthood to a fixation, shared with other House committees, for the 2012 tragedy at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

But now that Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office, Chaffetz seems all too willing to give up his position as the one who stands up to the commander in chief.

The Republican side of Chaffetz's House Oversight Committee recently announced a list of some 40 areas of government operations it wants to look into over the next several months. None of them touched on the most important controversies dogging the Trump administration.

Later this week, though, Chaffetz told CNN that the committee might, after all, have a look at the tangled web of business and political dealings the president and his business empire has with various agencies of the U.S. government and with governments and businesses in nations around the world, including Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Of course that's exactly what the committee should do. The potential for massive and multiple conflicts of interest that would push the president to make decisions that favored his business partners — or punished his competitors — is, well, yuge.

And such a probe, Chaffetz may see, will get him on TV.

If Chaffetz misses waiving the bloody shirt of Benghazi, he can always turn his attention to Sunday's Navy SEAL raid in Yemen. The one that killed one American and a still-undetermined number of civilians. The one that, according to a flood of leaks from inside the military, was poorly planned and approved for political, not tactical, reasons.

The Constitution assumes that human nature will push officials of each branch of government to jealously guard their own powers, creating a balance that prevents anyone getting up to too much mischief. But when elected officials are less interested in protecting their institution than in toeing the party line, it all falls apart.