Just a couple of months ago, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson profiled Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was poised to dig deep on wide-ranging investigations into government mischief, waste, fraud, and abuse.
A few weeks later, Chaffetz abruptly announced he would resign from Congress. Attkisson 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. Chaffetz told Attkisson it’s more a matter of what hasn’t changed. Attkisson started the interview by asking how he told party leaders he was quitting.
The following is Attkisson’s “Full Measure” interview with Chaffetz.
Sharyl Attkisson: 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, R-Utah: The reality is, sadly, I don’t see much difference between 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.
Attkisson: 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?
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 seven 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.
Attkisson: To what do you attribute that?
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 just, we can just wait you out. We can just wait you out.”
Attkisson: 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?
Chaffetz: Now look, you have more than 50 Republicans pleading with President [Donald] 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.
Attkisson: Do Republican leaders have an appetite to do the kind of oversight that needs to be done?
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.”