Just a couple of months ago, we profiled Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee which was poised to dig deep on wide-ranging investigations into government mischief, waste, fraud and abuse. A few weeks later, Chaffetz abruptly resigned from Congress. We asked the Oversight Man what changed his mind about being a lead watchdog with not only a GOP majority in Congress, but also a Republican in the White House. He told me it’s more a matter of what hasn’t changed.
We started the interview with me asking how he told party leaders he was quitting.
Jason Chaffetz: I called Speaker Ryan first, and when I talked to him, he wanted to try to talk me out of it, and I interrupted him and I said, “Paul, I’m not asking for permission, I’m telling you that Jason and Julie Chaffetz made this decision.” I didn’t, I don’t report to him. I didn’t get hired by him. I got hired by the people in Utah so it was-
Sharyl: Did he treat you a little bit like you worked for him?
Jason Chaffetz: Well, he was just ‘please on this, let’s talk about it, let’s get together,’ and I said, ‘look we’ve already decided.’ It’s just, it just wasn’t really his decision and I didn’t need his input, quite frankly. I am tenacious and passionate about serving this country.
Sharyl: After eight and a half years on an upward trajectory in Washington DC, Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has suddenly and quite unexpectedly, pulled himself out of the game. Some people might think this is a great time to be a Republican Chairman of an important committee because Republicans control the House, they’re the majority in the Senate, and they hold the President’s office. That means, you would think, that federal agencies can’t stonewall investigations of spending, waste, fraud, and abuse.
Jason Chaffetz: Sadly, I don’t see much difference in the Trump administration and the Obama administration. I thought there would be this, these floodgates would open up with all the documents we wanted from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Pentagon. In many ways, it’s almost worse because we’re getting nothing, and that’s terribly frustrating and with all due respect, the Attorney General has not changed at all. I find him to be worse than what I saw with Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. I just, that’s my experience, and that’s not what I expected.
Sharyl: What were some of the investigations that this committee was stalled on that you hoped could be picked up now, that’s not been able to happen in terms of documents not provided by federal agencies?
Jason Chaffetz: We have everything from the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which is really one of the critical things. There was the investigation into the IRS. And one that was more than 7 years old is Fast and Furious. I mean, we have been in court trying to pry those documents out of the Department of Justice and still to this day, they will not give us those documents. And at the State Department, nothing. Stone cold silence.
Sharyl: To what do you attribute that?
Jason Chaffetz: I think if we went to the senior most people, even the President himself, they would be pulling their hair out and they would hate to hear that but within the bowels of the organization, they just seem to circle the wagons and think, “Oh we can just wait you out. We can just wait you out.”
Sharyl: Well they do.
Jason Chaffetz: They do.
Sharyl: Republicans were very upset in the last few years over the IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, who they said allowed destruction of documents and investigations and other things. This committee, I believe, even called for him to be impeached. He’s still IRS Commissioner even though Republicans are now in charge of pretty much everything. Why is that?
Jason Chaffetz: Now look, you have more than 50 Republicans pleading with President Trump to release him, to let him go, fire him, or at least encourage him to retire. No, he’s still there. No changes. Nobody was fired. Nobody was prosecuted. Nobody was held accountable. We tried to issue subpoenas, we tried to hold people in contempt and the Obama Administration said, no, and the Trump Administration came in and did zero. Nothing. Nothing changed.
Sharyl: Do Republican leaders have an appetite to do the kind of oversight that needs to be done?
Jason Chaffetz: No, no. No, I mean the reality is, there aren’t very many people that want to play offense. There aren’t many people who say, look, we have a duty and an obligation to fulfill the oversight responsibility that was put in place at the very founding of our country.
Sharyl: Just the way you describe it, it’s troubling. Is Congress broken?
Jason Chaffetz: Congress doesn’t stand up for itself. I think it’s really lost its way. They say, oh, we’ll use the power of the purse. That doesn’t work. First of all, they never do cut funding. Even getting people to come up and testify before Congress, the Obama Administration at the end of their term, they got so brazen they stopped sending people up. They just didn’t care. And there was no way to enforce that, and until that changes, the legislative branch is going to get weaker and weaker.
Sharyl: On Full Measure, we recently exposed the little-known party system on Capitol Hill where Democrats and Republicans are pressed to fund raise for their respective parties to pay six and seven figure dues, often soliciting donations on public time from the very special interests they’re supposed to regulate.
Sharyl: Does this mean immediately you have to stop trying to raise money?
Jason Chaffetz: Oh, I love that part of it. (Sarcasm)
Sharyl: Party dues, campaign funds?
Jason Chaffetz: Look, as a position, as a chairman of a committee, plus what I have to do with my own campaign, I have to raise about a million dollars a year, maximum individual contribution is 2700 dollars.
Sharyl: That’s a lot of phone calls.
Jason Chaffetz: That’s a lot of phone calls, and a lot of travel, you’re putting in literally 16 hour days, and then it’s the weekend, and guess what you’ve got to do? Get on a plane and fly to North Carolina or Texas or California or New York, and go raise and beg for money, and that consumes the weekend, and the next thing you know, you’ve got to be back. As a chairman, I’ve got to be back Sunday night and then you’ve been at home for maybe 5 or 6 hours.
Sharyl: Most people probably don’t know that you never bought or rented an apartment here.
Jason Chaffetz: No. No.
Sharyl: So, you sleep on a cot in your office.
Jason Chaffetz: No, I really do, and I do that to save money for our family. Look, we get paid a very handsome salary, but it’s not nearly enough to have a place in Utah and then in Washington, DC, one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s just, I can’t do both.
Jason Chaffetz: I move these out, I spread these out like this, and then in here I have my cot. I literally just roll it out like this, and like this, and then I throw the mattresses on the top. I can watch a CD while I fall asleep at night.
Sharyl: Oh yeah flat screen.
Jason Chaffetz: But it’s not the most comfortable. I got this at Walmart. It’s more like a fake plastic. It’s not, if you see, it’s not really flat but that’s what you get for 50 bucks.
Sharyl: Very good.
Jason Chaffetz: And then, this is what I usually eat for breakfast that, and then. There’s not much in the fridge but water, almonds.
Jason Chaffetz: Water, popcorn and almonds, that’s all you really need.
Jason Chaffetz: I’m looking at the next year and a half thinking, I’m going to spend 2 to 300 nights away from my wife where we’ve been married 26 years. I loved the work but I truly just honestly happen to love my wife and kids more.
Sharyl: You’re painting a pretty bleak picture.
Jason Chaffetz: Yeah.
Sharyl: It starts to look like maybe that weighed in somewhat on your decision to leave.
Jason Chaffetz: Look, first and foremost, it really is a family decision. I loved being engaged in the fight, but yeah after 9, you know, 8½, 9 years, get to be a degree of frustration that hey, when are we going to get serious about changing these things? Because the American people, when I first started, they had Democrats who had the House and Senate in the Presidency. And that whole pendulum swung, but I’m telling you, in the first five, six months, I haven’t seen any changes. And, and that’s very frustrating, You come to that point and say, alright, it’s time for a change.
Rep. Chaffetz speaks a lot of truths in this interview. He is pointing out something we’ve been saying for years, and that is the sad fact that nobody wants to play offense, therefore the crimes and the scandals are never resolved and nobody sees justice done.
Saying they’ll use the power of the purse is a joke that Paul Ryan has used way too many times, because as Chaffetz says they never cut funding. That’s just a line they use repeatedly to keep us voting them back into office.
After listening to him describe his job and the long hours, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want a job in Congress. Maybe it’s because when they first run for office, they really believe they can make a difference, only to get there and learn they don’t.
It’s disheartening to learn that the Republicans as a whole are not all gung-ho now that they have the majority. We all hoped for huge changes when Trump took office, but apparently the only thing that got changed were the sheets.