If I were writing a play about a politician who was about to be exposed as guilty of something that would be career-ending, all I'd need to do is follow Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) around . . . and take notes.
Last week, Chaffetz suddenly announced that he would not run for re-election in 2018. He gave as the reason a (sudden?) desire to spend more time with his family back in Utah, especially given that he has teenage children. [Yes, we've heard this many times before, usually as a prelude to some career-ending scandal being revealed.]
Let's put this in context: Chaffetz has seemed one of the more ambitious young Republicans in the House. He is the stern chairman of the House Oversight Committee, given to lecturing government witnesses. He's not quite as awful as his predecessor Darrell Issa, but he can do a pretty good imitation.
Chaffetz's announcement came right on the heels of the joint announcement with ranking Democratic member of the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings (D-MD), that their request for documents relevant to Gen. Mike Flynn's vetting, security clearance, and firing had been denied by the White House. Or, rather, the White House said they had no documents relevant to the request. It's unclear whether that means there are no documents or whether the White House is refusing to comply.
Speculation was still running high about this when Chaffetz began hinting that he might not even finish out his current term. And it seemed pretty obvious that his decision was going to be determined by something he was waiting to hear about. He didn't say that; I'm reading between the lines. A day later, he began intimating that his resignation might even be imminent.
Then it all just died down for a couple of days. I thought that probably the big job he was hoping to get hadn't materialized. But no! Suddenly Chaffetz had another reason . . . out of the blue. He would be taking a leave of absence, because his doctor says he urgently needs corrective surgery to remove the metal screws used in an old, complicated foot fracture. He will be out for the next four or five weeks -- just as his committee's fight with the White House heats up.
This has all the earmarks of a man in trouble, desperately searching for a cover story. And he's not very good at it, not at all. If I were going to place a bet, I would dismiss the "spend time with family" and the "urgent" ankle surgery. I would also dismiss the tabloid hint at a long-standing sexual affair. My hunch would lead me to bet that he's desperate to get as far away as he can from the Trump/Russia investigation.
Why do I say that? First, it's timing. This came up immediately after this new revelation of an escalation of the Flynn story -- and the obvious conclusion that the Oversight Committee is going to lock horns with the Trump administration on this issue, or else it's going to just back down and push no further. We know that Elijah Cummings is not going to let this be swept under the rug.
None of Chaffetz's "explanations" really answer the "why now, so urgently?" question. And why, other than the obvious awkwardness of a Republican congressman going after a Republican administration, would Chaffetz run away from this career-defining opportunity to be the courageous, truth-finding crusader, even if it does bring down his party's leader? Because it could also be a career-ending outcome for Chaffetz. Politically, certainly, if Trump wins.
Or, here's another possibility. Perhaps the Trump folks have something compromising on Chaffetz, which they are using to blackmail him. Look what they did to Devin Nunes and how he cooperated -- until his ineptness raised too many questions and exposed the whole deal. This would explain Chaffetz's choice to take himself out of the whole thing. Or maybe one of Trump's wealthy donor-sponsors is offering Chaffetz a fantastic job in the private sector that he can't turn down, thus removing him as a crusading investigator.
I guess we'll just have to wait to find out. But we will find out. The Flynn debacle keeps growing. It's now possibly about to expose the fact that the Trump transition team brought people on board in highly sensitive, security positions without vetting them -- or perhaps hired them -- Flynn as the prime example -- in spite of suspicious things that should have disqualified them.
Rachel Maddow put together evidence showing that even VP Pence must be lying in saying that he knew nothing about Flynn's working for a foreign government before he was hired. Rachel points to (1) newpaper stories long before Flynn's hiring that he was working for the Turkish government; (2) Pence was head of the Transition Team, which was directly informed in writing about Flynn's representation of Turkey; (3) Acting Attorney General Sally Yates directly informed the White House counsel that Flynn was susceptible to blackmail because he had lied to the FBI about his foreign connections. The counsel may not have shared that with Pence; but, if he didn't, that raises much more serious questions for the White House, even if not for Pence himself.
Whatever . . . it's going to be a doozy. Either a doozy of an exposure right up to the Oval Office -- or else a doozy of a bigger coverup than Watergate. And maybe somehow Chaffetz himself is already involved in the coverup . . . and desperately wants out.
Or maybe I'm too cynical. Perhaps there's more of a family crisis story that we don't know about. Stay tuned.