Jason Chaffetz; Donald Trump (Getty/Chip Somodevilla/AP/Rick Bowmer/Photo montage by Salon)

Loyalists head for the exits: Even Jason Chaffetz begins to change his tune on Trump and transparency

Devin Nunes got the job as chief White House errand boy, so the ambitious Utah congressman seeks a new strategy

Heather Digby Parton
April 3, 2017 4:10PM (UTC)

One of the sourest moments of Donald Trump's damp inauguration ceremony had to be this comment after the fact, proudly shared on Instagram by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz:

So pleased she is not the President. I thanked her for her service and wished her luck. The investigation continues.

This churlish comment wasn't the only time Chaffetz had promised to continue his relentless crusade against Hillary Clinton. He had previously said "just because there was a political election doesn't mean it goes away," claiming that the emails on Clinton's server represented "the largest breach of security in the history of the State Department." Actually, the State Department's own servers have been hacked by foreign agents multiple times. But who's counting? (And Chaffetz himself has a history of revealing classified information in public.)


He told Fox News in December:

We can’t simply let this go. If the president or the president-elect wants to pardon Secretary Hillary Clinton for the good of the nation, that is their option. But I have a duty and an obligation to actually fix the problems that were made with Hillary Clinton.

One can understand how hard it must be for Chaffetz to let go of his dream. After all, the Utah congressman had planned his entire political future around riding Clinton scandals all the way to the Senate and possibly beyond. Having to instead become one of a dozen mealymouthed Trump toadies just doesn't present the same opportunities for a man with Chaffetz's towering ego and ambition. If there's any political fame or fortune to be gained by taking the apologist position, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has it all locked up.

At a forum on Thursday hosted by the right-wing "watchdog" group Judicial Watch, Chaffetz insisted that he's still looking into the "Fast and Furious" scandal. That was the odd controversy in which the Republican Party — which believes in unfettered gun rights even, for those who are mentally ill — turned into gun control advocates when it came to a federal government operation to sell firearms to intermediaries in order to trace them to cartel leaders. Apparently a portion of the guns landed in the hands of criminals who killed some innocent people, including a border patrol agent. (Imagine if they showed the same concern for the tens of thousands of other people who are killed by gun violence every year.)


Chaffetz also reminisced about his frustrations with former President Barack Obama's administration over Benghazi. In what seems to be an attempt to one-up the intrepid midnight adventures of Rep. Nunes, his rival Trump handmaiden, Chaffetz once more recounted the stale story of a National Guard soldier who came to him with information about Libya that was so secret that they had to meet in Utah in a sensitive compartmented intelligence facility, or SCIF. Chaffetz knew he had to see this supposedly explosive evidence for himself, so he hopped on a plane to Libya to check it out. He said, “It was not the safest decision I ever made." What a hero.

Unntil now, Chaffetz has resisted any attempts to investigate Trump. When the Atlantic's McKay Coppins read a long list of Trump conflicts of interest and asked if Chaffetz had any intention of having the House Oversight Committee look into them, he replied:

He’s already rich. He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.

Apparently, Chaffetz believes that wealthy Republicans cannot be corrupt because they have so much money. That's lucky for Donald Trump — the billionaire who just settled a $25 million lawsuit for fraud, went bankrupt four times and spent the last decade hawking ugly ties and cheap cologne as if he were desperate for cash. Not to mention the fact that for some unknown reason he refuses to release his tax returns.


Chaffetz's talk at the Judicial Watch forum, however, suggests that he's starting to reckon with the fact that the Trump administration is floundering and believes it may be time to take advantage. If he's joining up with Judicial Watch, it's a sign that some of the GOP's most tenacious opportunists have decided that their fortunes lie with the Trump opposition.

The day before the forum, Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton had attended a meeting of conservative groups and White House officials hoping to find a way forward after the health care bill debacle. According to The New York Times, Fitton demanded that the Trump administration release all its documents pertaining to the Russian interference in the election and commit to a policy of "extreme transparency." This is a departure for Fitton, who, like Chaffetz, has until now been docile and accepting when it comes to the mountain of corruption, conflicts and possible foreign collusion of the Trump administration.


The next day Chaffetz echoed Fitton's comments. He said that he's been letting the new administration settle in but that it's clear now that Trump's officials are not being cooperative with Chaffetz's committee's requests for documents. He didn't specifically mention Russia and tried to blame the problems on Obama administration holdovers but the fact that he appeared at a Judicial Watch event and criticized the administration didn't go unnoticed by Breitbart News, which means that it didn't go unnoticed by the White House.

You may recall that during the campaign Chaffetz ostentatiously withdrew his endorsement of Trump after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape only to come crawling back a couple weeks later. So it's probably safe to say that he'll go whichever way the wind blows. Right now there's a gale force hurricane bearing down on the White House and he's got to figure out whether the smart move for his future is to hunker down with Trump or head for high ground. You can be sure that whatever he decides, the calculation will be purely based on whatever he thinks is best for Jason Chaffetz.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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