Jason Chaffetz and the high cost of toadying for Trump

     Rep. Jason Chaffetz is shown speaking at a February town hall meeting in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Hundreds of people had lined up early, many holding signs critical of the congressman. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

    Rep. Jason Chaffetz is shown speaking at a February town hall meeting in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Hundreds of people had lined up early, many holding signs critical of the congressman. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

    Trump toady Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the hapless House Oversight Committee, was recently confronted by angry constituents. They yelled: “Do your job!” But he says: “Nah!”

    It’s exceedingly rare for a so-called rising star to bail on his Washington career. But Chaffetz announced yesterday that he’s fleeing – he won’t run for re-election in ’18; he might even vacate earlier — and the big reason is obvious. He’s heeding the advice articulated by Harry Truman, who once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

    Chaffetz said he just wants to spend more time with his family, but that rote pap fools nobody. Truth is, Trump’s kitchen is toxically unsanitary, littered with fetid items too hot to touch, and Chaffetz decided there was too much downside to cleanup duty.

    Back in ’15, when he won the Oversight chairmanship, he assumed he’d spend four years launching pseudo probes of President Hillary Clinton’s pseudo scandals – in effect, weaponizing the committee — winning plaudits from Fox News and raising his political stock. As he eagerly intoned last October, “It’s a target-rich environment. We’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up.”

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    Instead, what he got was a thankless mission. Either he could toady to Trump by ignoring the poseur-president’s serial ethics violations (thus infuriating the many Trump skeptics who live in red-state Utah), or he could do actual oversight and investigate the ethics violations (thus infuriating Trump acoloytes and much of the party base).

    Chaffetz insisted on Facebook yesterday: “I made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”

    Translation: “I don’t have the spine to confront Trump in the public interest.”

    He certainly doesn’t. It’s no fun to play the toady while the most corrupt president in living memory runs rampant over the rules. Trump, his kids, and his appointees are pillaging the government for personal gain, with no respect for transparency or conflicts of interest. New examples surface virtually every day. Trump is currently praising Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not just because Erdogan is flexing authoritarian power, but because Trump has a business stake. As he said two years ago — on a Steve Bannon radio show, no less — “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”

    That’s fertile stuff for an oversight chairman, but the last thing Chaffetz wanted to do was expose unprecedented abuses of power. Oh for the life of a sleuth who could spend umpteen months or years on Hillary’s private server! But alas, it was not to be. And Chaffetz made it clear, in an interview last month, that he was distinctly uncomfortable with the cards he’d been dealt.

    When Chaffetz was asked if he had any concerns about Trump using the presidency to enrich himself, he replied: “He’s already rich. He’s very rich.” (First of all, we don’t know how rich Trump is, because he refuses to release his tax returns. More importantly, Chaffetz didn’t answer the question.)

    When he was asked whether son-in-law Jared Kushner should be investigated — Kushner was reportedly serving as a foreign policy adviser while his family was exploring a $400-million business deal with China — Chaffetz said nope: “I don’t see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars. Just the fact that a staff person’s family is making money? It’s not enough.” (Kushner is not merely “a staff person,” and, under our ethics rules, the average American should not be asked to pay for federal aides who feather their own nests.)

    No need for vigilance, he said; after all, “I think the people who voted for Donald Trump went into it with eyes wide open.” Naturally, his purblind partisan remark ignored all the voters who opposed Trump in the first place. Didn’t the American majority have the right to insist that Trump be held accountable? And that an oversight chairman act as a watchdog, not a lapdog?

    Alas, no. Chaffetz got his non-marching orders back in February, when he met with Trump in the Oval Office. Chaffetz himself told the story: “Before my bum even hit the chair, the president said, ‘No oversight. You can’t talk about anything that has to do with oversight.'” Yes, Mein Leader!

    But playing the toady got old real fast. He joins Devin Nunes on the ash heap, further proof that Trump soils everyone he touches.

    You may expected a column today about Bill O’Reilly’s wonderful crash and burn. Given the saturation coverage – four stories today in The New York Times alone — I’ll just repeat a true tale of my own:

    I’ve long saved an angry letter that was addressed to me, authored and signed by Bill O’Reilly. It has yellowed with age. It’s dated Jan. 15, 1980.

    O’Reilly was working for the CBS affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut, as a member of the TV station’s investigative “I-Team.” I was the (very young) editor of a Hartford weekly newspaper. I assigned a reporter to profile the I-Team, which was a fairly new concept for Hartford. The reporter, to her surprise, quickly learned — from her I-Team interviews — that teammate O’Reilly was a personally disruptive force. I told her to focus the story on the I-Team’s mission, but that it was also important to mention the team’s internal tensions.

    “Dear Mr. Polman,” said the subsequent letter, “I’m truly amazed that every reference to me is inaccurate …. The reference to alienating my colleagues is nothing short of vicious and any attempt to substantiate that statement would be impossible. (The reporter) went with isolated opinions. It is indeed a shame that a person’s reputation is treated in so cavalier a fashion.”

    My thoughts at the time: “Yeah, whatever.”

    My reaction now: Character is destiny.

    We all know that Fox News and the Trump regime are increasingly sympatico. So hey, maybe they can work a trade:

    Bill O’Reilly for Sean Spicer and a liar to be named later.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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