Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has received several requests from Democrats on the committee and his hometown newspaper to begin reviewing President-elect Donald Trump’s finances for potential conflicts of interests. The Utah representative completely ignored those calls for three weeks, but he finally responded on Thursday, telling the Salt Lake Tribune that he finds the demands that he launch an investigation a little ridiculous.
“I will when there is an allegation of wrongdoing. But he hasn’t even been sworn in yet,” Chaffetz said. “At least let the guy actually become a federal employee before you start screaming for investigations.”
What kind of person clamors for endless investigations of the president before the president has even taken office? Oh, right: Jason Chaffetz, who after leading the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server bragged in October: “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
While it may appear that Chaffetz was far more excited about investigating Clinton because she’s a Democrat, he explains the key difference is actually that she’s been a federal employee while Trump has not.
“It’s almost silly to suggest the investigation should begin now when he hasn’t even been sworn in,” Chaffetz said. “I didn’t start an investigation of Hillary Clinton before she was sworn in [as secretary of state]; it was when the inspector general found potential wrongdoing that we started to look into it.”
Chaffetz said he thinks it’s fair to give Trump some “leeway” during the transition. It’s not like he’s doing things in his official capacity as president-elect that could benefit the Trump Organization. Well, except for these examples Democrats listed in their letter to Chaffetz:
• Ivanka Trump, who serves on the transition team and is expected to take over the president-elect’s business, participated in calls and meetings last month with the prime minister of Japan, the president of Argentina, and business developers working on a Trump-brand hotel in India.
• Trump asked British politician Nigel Farage to campaign against offshore wind farms that he thinks threaten the view from his Scottish golf course.
• The Trump Organization filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia to avoid paying taxes on the Trump International Hotel in the former Post Office Building.
Plus, some people think that merely running for president means you have to meet a higher ethical standard. As one congressman put it during the campaign:
If you’re going to run and try to become the president of the United States, you’re going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records. You’re just going to have to do that, it’s too important. So both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, should show both their medical records and tax returns, absolutely.
That congressman was Jason Chaffetz. Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns, and in their letter the Democrats only ask the Oversight Committee chairman to make a formal request to see the documents. They also want Chaffetz to invite Trump to send officials of his choosing to explain how his company will function when he becomes president. Without a full picture of Trump’s finances, we can’t know if the new business setup he’s unveiling on December 15 actually eliminates all conflicts of interest.
It doesn’t appear that Chaffetz was swayed by the request from his colleagues, but he is open to investigating President Trump. “There will come a point when the Oversight Committee will be probing some things I’m sure the executive branch will not want us to be looking at,” he said. “It’s happened for 200 years, and it will happen in the Trump administration as well.”
So if Trump does something ethically questionable after January 20, 2017, Chaffetz will take action, theoretically.