“A subpoena is not a suggestion,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said at an April 2016 hearing scolding President Obama’s administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. “My view of a subpoena is that it means 100 percent. What should Congress not see?”
Chaffetz for the past eight years used high-pressure tactics to gather information from the State Department (after the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi), the Internal Revenue Service (after politicization of applications approval for tax-exempt status), the Secret Service (after lapses in White House fence protections), the Health and Human Services Department (during the Affordable Care Act rollout), the Transportation Security Administration (following claims of whistleblower retaliation), and the Environmental Protection Agency (during the Flint, Mich., water crisis), among others.
This weekend, the conservative first elected in 2008 applied some of the same medicine to the Trump administration.
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During an exclusive TV interview arranged after his surprise mid-May announcement that he will resign on June 30, Chaffetz told Sharyl Attkisson of the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “Full Measure” that agencies under Trump are even less forthcoming in the transparency department.
Attkisson suggested that Republican control of Congress and the White House “means, you would think, that federal agencies can't stonewall investigations of spending, waste, fraud and abuse.”
Chaffetz’s reply: “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 [Obama Attorney General] Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. ..and that's not what I expected.”
Chaffetz said that if he were staying on as top watchdog he would continue demanding documents relating to the Hillary Clinton email investigation, IRS “targeting,” and the seven-year-old “Fast and Furious” scandal involving the death of an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the subject of a hearing by his committee earlier this month).
Asked for the agencies’ reasons for stonewalling, Chaffetz said, “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 can just wait you out. We can just wait you out."
Chaffetz was asked to explain why the efforts by some House Republicans to impeach IRS Chief John Koskinen have not borne fruit. “You have more than 50 Republicans pleading with President Trump to release him, um, to let him go, fire him. Uh, or at least encourage him to retire,” the oversight chairman said. “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.”
Do Republican leaders have an appetite to do the kind of oversight that needs to be done?, Attkisson pressed.
“No,” Chaffetz replied. “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.’ ”
Asked if Congress is broken, Chaffetz said: “Congress doesn't stand up for itself. I think it's, it's really lost its way. They say, ‘Oh, we'll use the power of the purse.’ That doesn't work. First of all, they never do cut funding. Even getting people to come up and testify before Congress, the Obama administration at the end of their term, they got so brazen they stopped sending people up. They just didn't care. And there was no way to enforce that, and until that changes, the legislative branch is going to get weaker and weaker.”
Chaffetz reiterated that his decision to retire is based on a desire to spend more time with family. “I loved being engaged in the fight, but yeah there does, after 9, you know, 8.5, 9 years, get to be a degree of frustration that, ‘Hey, when are we going to get serious about changing these things?’ ” he said. “Because the American people, when I first started, they had Democrats who had the House and Senate and the presidency. And that whole pendulum swung, but I'm telling you, in the first five, six months, I haven't seen any changes. And…that's very frustrating.”