Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz is now claiming that the crowd of participants who confronted him at a town hall in his Utah district on Thursday night included a large contingent of paid agitators from out of state. Speaking with the Deseret News, the chair of the House Oversight committee insisted, without offering any evidence, that the mostly hostile capacity-crowd’s reaction was “more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate” him than an accurate reflection of what his constituents are truly concerned about. Furthermore, Chaffetz wrote off the protesters as Democrats who couldn’t come to terms with the election of President Trump and just wanted to lash out. “You could see it online a couple days before, a concerted effort in part to just cause chaos,” Chaffetz insisted. “Democrats are in disbelief that they have nothing but flailing and screaming to deal with this.”
“Absolutely. I know there were,” Chaffetz said when pressed on his assertion that the town-hall backlash was powered by paid disruptors. When asked who might have paid to fill out the 1,000-person audience, the Utah Republican then told the paper to “do some reporting.” Referring to the protesters’ frequent shouting, he added that, “We’re better than that. That’s not what the average Utahn is like.”
There is no evidence that any of the protesters at the town hall on Wednesday were paid to be there, nor is there any evidence that the vast majority of them weren’t from Utah, as these reporters who were there attest:
McCay Coppins, whose tweet is featured above, also pointed out in his Atlantic piece about the town hall that Democratic resistance to Trump isn’t the only thing Utah Republicans like Chaffetz should be worried about.
Despite Utah’s status as one of the most conservative states in the country, Trump has never been very popular there. He carried the state’s electoral votes last year with just 45 percent of the vote. Up to now, Republican officeholders in the state have been largely insulated from their constituents’ opposition to the president — but some progressives in the state are hoping that will change.
But Chaffetz, whose enthusiastic plan to spend four years investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails was spoiled by Trump’s victory on Election Day, also seems chafed at the idea that constituents might want him to make sure the president isn’t breaking any laws. “People are asking me to use the power of Congress to do a full-on fishing expedition to investigate him personally on things that are not required by law,” he told the Deseret News. “I think my doing that would be an abuse of power.”
Chaffetz has repeatedly shrugged off calls to use his Oversight Committee to conduct oversight of the president. And although he did criticize Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway last week for promoting a Trump-owned brand from the White House, he has also threatened to investigate the director of the Office of Government Ethics for criticizing the ethics of the president’s murky business ties.
Regarding future town halls, Representative Chaffetz wants to try to find a new way to interact with voters without offering a venue “for these radicals to further intimidate.”