“This wasn’t about Chaffetz being a Republican … This was about Chaffetz straining at gnats for Hillary and Obama, and swallowing camels when it comes to Trump,” said Jeff Swift, a Mormon Democrat from South Jordan who helped organize opponents’ turnout at the town hall.
Matthew Ancell, a literature professor at Brigham Young University who was among the hundreds of protesters outside the event, similarly pointed to Chaffetz’s reluctance to dig into Trump’s alleged misdeeds. “It is explicitly his job to investigate, and he’s not,” Ancell told me.
Chaffetz has said he will investigate Trump if he feels compelled to do so, but that he won’t go on a “fishing expedition” in search of wrongdoing. Ancell dismissed this reasoning as a weak excuse. “This fish has now jumped in the boat and is biting his leg.”
Carina Hoskisson drove up to the town hall from Provo, where she and her friends have been struggling since the election to effectively voice their displeasure with Trump and his GOP allies. “My friends, who are mostly Mormon moms, run the gamut from conservative, moderate, to progressive, but the one thing we all have in common is how upset we are about Trump’s election and how our representatives folded and endorsed him,” Hoskisson said.
She told me Chaffetz’s behavior has been especially galvanizing to Trump’s opponents. “I think plenty of Utahans were fine with him investigating Hillary, but to see Chaffetz not going after what appear to be serious violations in the executive branch means it was partisanship and not moral imperative that drove him. And that’s unacceptable to Utahans.”
Kellie Baker Daniels, another Provo woman who was at the town hall, echoed these sentiments. “I’m upset with Chaffetz because I feel like he is a craven opportunist and he only takes his job seriously if it benefits him,” she told me. “Right now, Congress is not doing their job checking the president … Chaffetz actually is in a position to do something, and he is my representative.”
Despite Utah’s status as one of the most conservative states in the country, Trump has never been very popular there. He carried the state’s electoral votes last year with just 45 percent of the vote. Up to now, Republican officeholders in the state have been largely insulated from their constituents’ opposition to the president—but some progressives in the state are hoping that will change.
“My read of the situation is that people here would have left Chaffetz largely alone if he hadn’t been so transparently bowing to Trump,” said Steve Evans, a Salt Lake City attorney and editor of By Common Consent, a popular liberal Mormon blog. “Before the election, Chaffetz had been vociferous about the morality of pursuing Clinton, so it’s viewed as hypocrisy that he now will do nothing with respect to Trump.”