Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee who is leading the House investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, is leaving Congress early — on June 30, he announced Thursday.
Chaffetz said in late April that he would not run for reelection in 2018 — and now says he will leave the seat mid session to spend more time with family. His early departure (Politico reports he may be appearing on Fox News) would open a seat in his Utah district. Chaffetz’s district is strongly Republican but not pro-Trump — the president only got 47 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
"When I first ran for Congress in 2008 I promised I would get in, serve, and get out,” he said in the statement Thursday. “My life has undergone some big changes over the last 18 months. Those changes have been good. But as I celebrated my 50th birthday in March, the reality of spending more than 1,500 nights away from my family over eight years hit me harder than it had before.”
His announcement comes at a particularly tense time in Washington, as multiple Trump-Russia-related reports have increased pressure for a thorough congressional probe into the scandals surrounding the administration. Chaffetz has already ramped up investigations in the Oversight Committee, requesting former FBI Director James Comey’s memos as well as publicly extending an invitation to Comey himself to testify.
In April, Chaffetz, who was first elected in 2008, said he has not ruled out public office in the future, in a post on his Facebook page.
CHAFFETZ to @politico: "I might depart early. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week. If it is, it’s going to be in the months to come."— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) April 20, 2017
As the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz came under fire for not investigating Trump’s possible conflicts of interests and for pursuing investigations of Hillary Clinton, becoming a target of the anti-Trump movement.
But Trump’s decision to fire Comey, and the revelation that Comey kept memos of his conversations with the president, led Chaffetz to call for a Department of Justice investigation into the firing and to request all FBI documents related to conversations between the former FBI director and Trump.
Chaffetz won past reelections with comfortable margins, representing a strongly Republican district in Utah. A long-shot Democratic challenger, Kathryn Allen — a physician and political newcomer — has reportedly been out-fundraising Chaffetz, according to the Associated Press. Chaffetz, who came out hard against Trump in the 2016 election, has been in a strange position. But he insisted he was “confident” he would have easily won reelection, and that he has “no doubt” a Republican will represent the district.
“I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector,” Chaffetz said in his April post.
Among possible Republican contenders is Evan McMullin, who ran a last-ditch third-party presidential campaign to derail Trump and has expressed interest in running for public office again.
Here is Chaffetz’s full statement from April:
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Representative in the United States House of Representatives. Serving is an honor and a privilege that I have never taken for granted.
After long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018.
Since late 2003 I have been fully engaged with politics as a campaign manager, a chief of staff, a candidate and as a Member of Congress. I have long advocated public service should be for a limited time and not a lifetime or full career. Many of you have heard me advocate, “Get in, serve, and get out.” After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.
For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.
I am grateful for all of you in the current and previous 3rd Congressional District. I acknowledge the outstanding work of my dedicated staff. Together we have been a strong advocate for Utahns.
By announcing now, I hope to give prospective candidates time to lay the groundwork for a successful run. I have no doubt the 3rd Congressional District will be represented by a Republican. I trust you to find the best person to serve.