Why is one of the most ambitious lawmakers in Washington retiring from Congress?
In the political world, to Chaffetz means to throw a former mentor under the bus in order to get ahead, and various prominent Republicans, from former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have experienced what it’s like to get Chaffetzed.
.. Chaffetz, who on Thursday said he might not finish out his term, has been considered a contender for Utah governor in 2020 and perhaps one day for the presidency.
.. The once-brash congressional inquisitor has twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he hasn’t been investigating President Trump, the most conflict-ridden commander-in-chief in modern US history.
.. after graduating he went to work for a local multilevel marketing company—think Amway—called Nu Skin, where he worked in PR.
.. allegations that the company was operating as a pyramid scheme. (The company has been Chaffetz’s biggest campaign donor.)
.. He worked briefly in the coal industry, unsuccessfully applied to join the Secret Service, and eventually started a marketing firm with his brother called Maxtera.
.. the former place-kicker campaigned largely on a harsh, anti-immigration platform.
.. leg wrestling Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report.
.. a media charm offensive that would make Chaffetz popular among journalists, whom he cultivated assiduously by passing out his personal cellphone number to reporters and accepting almost any interview request. It’s all about “old-fashioned human relationships,” he told National Journal in 2015. “You’ve got to get out there and invest the time. Work with the media!”
.. a House Republican strategy session and told the assembled members, “I am your worst nightmare.” He explained how the advent of social media had allowed him to bypass the mainstream media and, with very little funding, knock off an establishment candidate.
.. Chaffetz may have underestimated Hatch, whose mild-mannered exterior belies a ruthless political operator. There’s a reason he’s served longer than any Republican senator since Strom Thurmond.
.. There was a bit of information they were going to disclose if he ran. Things were going to get ugly.
.. Chaffetz stapled himself to Mitt Romney, serving as a regular campaign surrogate for the failed GOP presidential nominee, whom he endorsed over his former mentor, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
.. Chaffetz, now running for reelection in 2012, quickly found other ways to nab the spotlight. Before the FBI had secured the Benghazi compound following the September 11 attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Chaffetz demanded to visit the scene in his capacity as the chairman of the House oversight subcommittee on national security and foreign operations. He dashed off to Libya less than a month later—without any Democrats, as the oversight committee’s policy dictates—to supposedly conduct an independent investigation.
.. The closest he got to the crime scene was Tripoli, 400 miles away.
Chaffetz, who had previously voted to cut $300 million from the State Department’s budget for embassy security, claimed the purpose of his trip was to discern whether the Obama administration had denied requests for more security for the Benghazi compound.
.. He launched a campaign to win the chairmanship of the House oversight committee, then run by the bellicose Rep. Darrell Issa
.. Chaffetz campaigned for the chairmanship as the anti-Issa, implicitly critiquing the oversight chairman’s combative style and suggesting that he could bring to the committee an element of media savvy that Issa lacked. Once again, Chaffetz stabbed a mentor in the back and won.
.. one of his first moves was taking down the portraits of past chairmen, including Issa, that hung in the hearing room. Issa was not pleased. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s just indicative of what his mindset was and how self-centered he is,”
.. Fellow lawmakers, Bardella notes, were repelled that “Jason would be so willing to throw under the bus someone who really tried to help mentor him, for his own gain.”
.. He’d chaired the oversight committee for less than a year before launching an audacious bid for speaker of the House when John Boehner retired. Aside from being a very junior member of Congress, Chaffetz’s bid for the speakership also meant he would be running against his friend and former champion, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
.. threatening to impeach the head of the IRS over his handling of the nonprofit status of tea party groups and suggesting there might be grounds to remove President Barack Obama from office over Benghazi.
.. HRC, a.k.a. Hillary Rodham Clinton, would have been good for Chaffetz’s political fortunes, however.
.. These listening sessions are typically subdued affairs, but this one drew hundreds of angry constituents, who demanded to know why the chairman of the House oversight committee was not doing more to investigate President Trump.
.. I think he used the fact that he could investigate an administration of an opposing party to his advantage during the Obama years that allowed him to be in front of the cameras repeatedly, and to be seen as pursuing the interests of the Republican Party. But I think what has people, or at least some people, in his district concerned is the appearance of a double standard, that he was very eager to investigate Hillary Clinton and has been extremely hesitant to pursue serious questions about the Trump administration.”
.. Evan McMullin, who launched his anti-Trump effort in Utah, had suggested he might consider challenging Chaffetz or Hatch.
.. “He has almost the perfect rainbow of hate. Liberals will never think he’s doing enough in that position. And of course the alt-right may think anything he does against President Trump is feeding into this frenzy against their president. It has put him in a place where it’s very tough to do right by anyone.”
.. Chaffetz, a canny political operator, has surely read the tea leaves, wagering that it is in his best interests to sit out the bruising political fights of the Trump administration’s first term lest Trump bring Chaffetz down with him.
.. he may take the path of other high-profile members of Congress and nab a lucrative contract with one of the networks, where he can maintain his visibility, build up his bank account, and bide his time for the right moment to get back in the political game.
.. his campaign committee registered the domains Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com.
.. MAYER: Among the theories that Robinson has propounded and that Bob Mercer has accepted is that climate change is not happening. It’s not for real, and if it is happening, it’s going to be good for the planet. That’s one of his theories, and the other theory that I found particularly worrisome was they believe that nuclear war is really not such a big deal. It’s survivable, and – they think.
And they’ve actually argued that outside of the immediate blast zone in Japan during World War II – outside of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – that the radiation was actually good for the Japanese. So they see a kind of a silver lining in nuclear war and nuclear accidents. And he co-authored a book in 1986 that I took a look at that describes ways that Americans can survive nuclear war by basically digging fallout shelters all across the country. And he believes that radiation is potentially good for people’s health.
DAVIES: And do the Mercer’s seem to have embraced Robinson’s views about nuclear war and climate change?
MAYER: Well, Bob Mercer has certainly embraced the view that radiation could be good for human health – low level radiation. And he’s been in arguments with people that I interviewed about it, so, yes, very much. He seems extremely influenced by Arthur Robinson’s scientific findings.
.. they have very extreme views, and they’re impatient – both of them. They want action fast. And what was a question for me as I was reporting this was, so how did they get what they wanted? What did they do? And they couldn’t really do it on their own because, like many wealthy people who have strong political ideas, they have no idea how to sort of manipulate politics. They need some kind of professional help. And the person they turned to for that was Steve Bannon.
.. Yet, when Trump’s campaign started to really fall apart last August, it was Mercer’s daughter who met with Trump’s people and with Trump and said, I’ll put money in, but you’re going to have to basically put my people in charge of your campaign.
.. MAYER: Well, now, Trump and Steve Bannon go way back. And that’s a different story. Steve Bannon saw Trump speak at CPAC – the Conservative Political Action Conference – years ago, maybe 2013 or 2014, and was blown away by Trump. And so he’s been actually quite helpful to Trump for years. He – when he was running Breitbart, Bannon gave Trump tons of great coverage and really boosted his visibility. So yeah – so Bannon and Trump have been in touch for quite some time.
.. MAYER: Well, according to people I interviewed such as Sam Nunberg, who was an early, early member of the Trump campaign, Breitbart was enormously helpful in providing a platform for Trump, a national platform. And it gave Trump space to sort of test out his narrative and see which storylines worked best and promoted him so much so that Steve Bannon wrote an email to a friend that eventually leaked out – and this was way back in – in 2015 – saying that he was secretly Trump’s campaign manager.
.. DAVIES: You actually spoke to Steve Bannon for this piece.
MAYER: I did speak to Steve Bannon.
DAVIES: What did he tell you?
MAYER: And he was fascinating. He’s very articulate, and he said – he minced no words about the Mercers. He said they laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution. He said irrefutably that when you look at the donors in the past four years, he said they’ve had the single biggest impact of anybody, including the Kochs.
.. Rebekah Mercer who met with Trump and said – your campaign’s a mess. I would like to support you, but you’re going to have to straighten out the way you’re running it. And she suggested that he put Steve Bannon in charge of the campaign as campaign chairman, Kellyanne Conway in charge as campaign manager and that they also put in David Bossie, who runs the group Citizens United, as deputy campaign manager. And Bossie is someone else who the Mercers have supported financially through his group for quite some time. In essence, they were circling Trump with their own people.
.. She had mixed success, but she had some serious successes with Mike Flynn who she wanted to have become national security adviser. And of course, Trump did choose him. He didn’t last very long, but he was in there. And she pushed very hard for Jeff Sessions to be the attorney general, and she got success with that. And she pushed very hard to have Bannon play a major role in the White House. And of course, he is now Trump’s strategic adviser. And at first, she was hoping that Kellyanne Conway would not go into the White House but would stay outside and help Rebekah Mercer run an outside group that would support Trump, but that didn’t happen. Kellyanne Conway went into the White House.
So her people did quite well. I mean, there’s some people that she wanted that didn’t get jobs. She wanted John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to be the secretary of state, and she was very disappointed when he didn’t get that. And she has touted this very odd scientist that her family has supported, Arthur Robinson, to be the national science adviser. And so far, that hasn’t happened.
.. And I think if you sort of step back, one of the things that interests me about what Trump is doing is I think you can see that he is – on questions having to do with the health care fight and the budget, he’s taking positions that are very much aligned with the super-rich donors, particularly things that the Mercers would have liked and in some ways, taking policy positions that hurt many of the middle-class and lower middle-class voters who supported him.
.. Rebekah Mercer’s got a game plan in mind. What she’s hoping to do is start an outside group that’s outside of the White House that’s going to be a powerful voice pushing Trump to take her point of view. And so when – it will trumpet his moves when they – when she thinks they’re good and attack him when she thinks that he’s, you know, not following a tough enough line. And I – you know, so we will start probably seeing commercials and a lot of social media coming from this group.
.. He said that Mercer wanted to shrink the government to the size of a pinhead and that he doesn’t think that – he basically has a philosophy, according to Magerman, that values people on the basis of what they earn. He doesn’t think human beings have intrinsic value. He thinks that if you are a schoolteacher and you earn 2 million times less than Mercer earns, then you’re 2 million times less valuable than Mercer is. And he believes that if you are on welfare, you have negative value. And what Magerman said was, and he’s not talking about economically. He means as a human being.
So he has this kind of very mechanistic, almost kind of Ayn Rand-like, objectivist philosophy.
.. since the Citizens United decision and the others that were part of that was – is that you can now have people – a few people with an incredible amount of money who the rest of the country doesn’t even know their names, let alone who they are or what they want. And they can have this outsized impact. And I think that that’s what’s different.
You know, before Citizens United, there was still a lot of money in politics, but because there were limits on how much any single person could give at any time to PACs, there were bundlers, and they were known to people. And they were – kind of the parties had much more influence which had much more consensus.
In an interview with Forbes published Friday, Eric Trump described the setup as “kind of a clear separation of church and state that we maintain.”
“I am deadly serious about that exercise,” he said. “I do not talk about the government with him, and he does not talk about the business with us. That’s kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it’s something that we honor.”
But nearly two minutes later, Trump admitted that he will keep his father up to speed on some aspects of the business.
“Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that’s about it,” he said, adding that the updates will be “probably quarterly.”
“My father and I are very close,” he said. “I talk to him a lot. We’re pretty inseparable.”
.. “He is breaking down one of the few barriers he claimed to be establishing between him and his businesses, and those barriers themselves were weak to begin with. But if he is now going to get reports from his son about the businesses, then he really isn’t separate in any real way.”
.. “From a business standpoint, is the presidency beneficial?
.. “I would say that we also made great sacrifices and that the business made great sacrifices in that when you limit an international business to only domestic properties, when you put hundreds of millions of dollars of cash into a campaign, when you run with very, very tight and strict rules and the things that we do every single day in terms of compliance — I don’t know. You could look at it either way.”