Chaffetz is a well-known figure on Capitol Hill but the average member of the public, if they know him at all, probably remembers him mainly as the guy who sleeps on a cot in his office rather than spring for a room somewhere. But he’s been marked for stardom since he was a college football star: In the words of Dave Weigel in this 2010 article
, “when [Chaffetz] started to make it in politics, his teammates would recall how, after successful kicks, he would remove his helmet to reveal a perfect head of hair for the TV cameras.”
The son of a man once married to Kitty Dukakis, wife of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael, Chaffetz started off as a Jewish Democrat, then converted to Mormonism during his last year of college in Utah — and Republicanism when former President Ronald Reagan was hired as a motivational speaker for Nu Skin, the “multi-level marketing” company (think Amway) which employed Chaffetz for a decade before he entered politics. He worked as chief of staff for the famously moderate Gov. Jon Huntsman and then beat the very conservative Representative Chris Cannon by running against him from the right in the 2010 Tea Party electoral bloodbath. On Election Night, Cannon said
, “the extremists who don’t want to win elections have taken over the party. We don’t want that to happen in Utah. Politics is way too important to leave to the boors.”
Chaffetz’s former boss Huntsman had this to say about his former chief of staff:
And despite his politically eclectic past, Chaffetz has stuck to his arch-conservative guns during the five years he’s been in Congress. He wants to slash Social Security
, ban gay marriage
and look into impeaching President Obama
. Still, he sees himself as a sort of mediator between the hard-core Tea Party insurrectionists and everyone else — perhaps because he’s been everything from a liberal Democrat to a moderate Republican to a hard-right zealot, depending on where the opportunities lie at any given moment.
He is good communicator, except for the fact that he seems to have a tiny problem with the truth, which he perfectly illustrated in the Planned Parenthood hearing, when he offered up a chart so misleading that it caused Politifact
to call it not only misleading, but, quoting one expert, “ethically wrong.” And while he may have a point that Kevin McCarthy screwed the pooch on Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee, his own history of being loose-lipped and excitable puts McCarthy’s little faux pas
Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed, described by the administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex,” was a CIA base. They did this, helpfully, in a televised public hearing.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the spooks. “Point of order! Point of order!” he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, described the chaotic night of the attack. “We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.”
A State Department official assured him that the material was “entirely unclassified” and that the photo was from a commercial satellite. “I totally object to the use of that photo,” Chaffetz continued. He went on to say that “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”
Now that Chaffetz had alerted potential bad guys that something valuable was in the photo, the chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), attempted to lock the barn door through which the horse had just bolted. “I would direct that that chart be taken down,” he said, although it already had been on C-SPAN. “In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.”
If any members of Congress are thinking that Jason Chaffetz will be a more mature and professional leader than Kevin McCarthy, they might want to think again.