Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, spoke in the Media and Public Affairs Building Monday about his experiences in Congress, including his role in some of the most well-known political scandals of the last decade.
Chaffetz, who now works as a commentator for Fox News, served in the House of Representatives from 2009 to 2017, including a two-year stint as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He helped investigate the Fast and Furious scandal, the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and the Hillary Clinton email controversy.
He resigned from Congress in the middle of his term last year, amid criticism that he was not properly exercising oversight on the Trump administration, a decision he attributed to the pressures of the job.
He spoke to the GW College Republicans in a wide-ranging conversation about this time in office. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the event:
1. Gun control after Parkland
Chaffetz spoke about gun violence reforms he wants to see implemented in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting. He called for the revitalization of a national background check system meant to track who is unable to legally buy a gun based on criminal history. Although the FBI already checks the list following gun purchases from federal firearms licensees, Chaffetz said there have been several occasions where the system did not flag individuals who should not have been able to buy weapons.
“If the states aren’t individually populating that national database with the people that should not be purchasing weapons, then when they go to check that database, it’s not going to show up,” he said.
He said authorities should have arrested the Parkland shooter, who had well-known mental health issues and violent tendencies that frequently worried those around him.
“If he gets arrested, then he’s got a record. He gets to that point, he can’t have a gun,” Chaffetz said.
He also expressed frustration over a failure to prosecute individuals who have committed minor gun-related offenses, like lying on an application for a Federal Firearms License or attempting to bring a firearm through airport security. While Chaffetz said he wasn’t in favor of arming every teacher in the United States, he argued that schools needed to be fortified to prevent future shootings.
2. A ‘worthless’ attorney general
Chaffetz also addressed the challenges of monitoring the Department of Justice under both the Obama and Trump administrations. He said the agency is often uncooperative or slow to comply with requests for information.
He criticized former Attorney General Eric Holder for invoking executive privilege during hearings about the Fast and Furious scandal, a botched justice department program in which the government lost track of guns that were sold to Mexican drug cartels.
Chaffetz also expressed frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ refusal to move forward on prosecuting matters related to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Chaffetz received national attention, and frequent criticism, for leading inquires against Clinton both on the Benghazi attack and the email scandal in the run-up to the 2016 election.
“I think Attorney General Sessions is worthless. I think he’s been terrible. I think he’s been absolutely a disaster, ineffective, recused himself out of the most pertinent thing,” Chaffetz said. “If he’s conflicted, then he’s conflicted himself out of a job.”
He faulted Sessions for refusing to act on a former technology worker in Clinton’s State Department who had refused to testify to about the private email server. Chaffetz’s committee held the worker in contempt of Congress. He had already made an immunity deal with the justice department.
3. Why he left Congress
In addition to his frustration with the justice department under Sessions, Chaffetz said he decided to leave Congress in the middle of his term because of the pressures of fundraising, the toll of the job on himself and his family and his personal belief that elected officials should “get in, serve and get out.”
He said the demands to raise money for the Republican Party and GOP candidates meant that he could rarely spend time at home during his tenure in the House.
“When I became chairman of the Oversight Committee, I was expected to raise $875,000 a year. I spent another 100-plus days of the year on the road, raising money. Friday and Saturday, and sometimes into Sunday, I was off in New York, Boston, Houston, Seattle raising money. Begging for dollars,” Chaffetz said.
He added that he is a “definite maybe” for running for governor of Utah in 2020. Incumbent Governor Gary Herbert has announced that he will not seek re-election, and early polls show Chaffetz is the front-runner.