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Gehrke: For the sake of Trump investigation, Chaffetz should give up Oversight chairmanship

First Published      Last Updated May 19 2017 09:49 am

The tornado that has engulfed President Donald Trump's administration over the last two weeks shows no sign of letting up.

It has also pulled Rep. Jason Chaffetz into its vortex.

As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz has been practically forced to take modest steps toward investigating the entanglements between Trump world and Russia and how they may have played into the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

This week, for example, Chaffetz requested that the Justice Department turn over a copy of Comey's memo memorializing a meeting with the president where Trump reportedly encouraged Comey to let go of the investigation into Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn.




If he didn't get it, Chaffetz warned, he had "his subpoena pen" ready to demand it be given to his committee.

It wasn't done with the gusto Chaffetz showed when he went after Hillary Clinton over deleted emails and Benghazi, but it was a sign he was no longer going to play defense for the White House.

Chaffetz has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday and invited Comey to testify — although it is unclear if Comey will do so.

Now, however, it would make sense for Chaffetz to put that subpoena pen to another purpose and resign his chairmanship of the Oversight Committee.

It's been widely rumored for weeks, ever since he announced he would not seek re-election next year, that Chaffetz also planned to resign the House and on Thursday, the rumors became reality when he announced he would leave Congress effective June 30.

The announcement comes at a time when the congressional probes are at a crucial juncture, with some members from both parties making comparisons to Watergate and discussing the possibility of impeachment of the president.

There should be no illusions that, whoever House Republican leaders pick will be an aggressive watchdog. If you've watched any of the hearings on the issue, they've come off more as demonstrations of partisan damage control than honest fact-finding inquiries.

Imperfect as they are, these are the forums we have for Congress to try to get to the bottom, or at the very least scratch the surface of the daily jaw-dropping revelations.

The decisions made today by the chairmen of the various investigative committees — including the House Oversight Committee — will invariably dictate where the investigations lead.

With his departure a little more than a month off, Chaffetz won't be around to follow those investigative paths. And when he hands that subpoena pen over to his replacement six weeks from now, the new committee leader will have to be a quick study to learn to steer the oversight ship.

Chaffetz said Thursday that he would consider stepping aside after he meets with House leadership to discuss its intentions. More than anything, he said, he wants to make sure there is a smooth transition, not just for the Russia investigation, but for all the work the committee is doing.

With events unfolding at a breakneck pace and a potential constitutional crisis waiting at the end, now is not the time to have a lame-duck at the helm of such an important investigative committee.

The new chairman or chairwoman should be allowed to get to work immediately, and Chaffetz should step aside and allow that to happen, for the good of Congress and the country.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

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