WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who promised before the election to investigate Democrat Hillary Clinton for years, says he will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office before “poking around” the businessman’s financial affairs and possible conflicts of interest.
While Rep. Jason Chaffetz is holding off on Trump, the four-term Utah lawmaker pledges to continue investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
“There are some outstanding issues floating out there that will still take some time,” Chaffetz said in an interview Thursday.
Chaffetz said it’s only fair to wait until Trump becomes president before looking at potential conflicts involving his global business empire.
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Democrats have called for investigations into Trump’s financial ties with foreign businesses and governments, as well as his lease with the U.S. government for a luxury hotel near the White House.
But Chaffetz said Thursday that Trump “needs time to get his affairs in order. When he becomes the president we’ll start providing some oversight of that.”
The comments were in stark contrast to a remark Chaffetz made before the election that he had “two years’ worth of material already lined up” to investigate Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president who lost to Trump in last month’s election.
Democrats took notice.
“For Republicans, there was no allegation too small to investigate with respect to Secretary Clinton, but now there is no scandal too big to ignore for Donald Trump,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the oversight panel.
“Donald Trump’s global entanglements are unprecedented,” Cummings said, and the oversight committee should “address these conflicts of interest now instead of waiting until after he is sworn in as president.”
Trump’s business dealings, his charitable foundation and his campaign’s ties to pro-Kremlin elements in Russia and Ukraine are all areas ripe for examination by the oversight panel, Cummings and other Democrats said.
At a minimum, Trump should divest his wide-ranging assets or put them in a blind trust not operated by his children, Democrats on the committee said in a letter to Chaffetz seeking an immediate review of Trump’s financial holdings.
The letter cited media reports indicating that at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries.
Trump has broadly asserted that as president he will not be hemmed in by conflict-of-interest laws. “The law is totally on my side,” Trump told The New York Times last week.
Chaffetz echoed that view and said he was encouraged by Trump’s announcement this week that he would soon announce plans to step back from his company while he is president.
“He’s moving in the right direction,” Chaffetz said of Trump.
Chaffetz has a complicated relationship with the president-elect. He denounced Trump after the GOP nominee was caught on videotape making crude, predatory comments about grabbing women. But Chaffetz later said he would vote for Trump, calling Clinton “bad for the USA.”
Still Chaffetz said that Trump, like any president, will not be able to avoid scrutiny by the oversight committee.
“His obligation is to abide by the law,” Chaffetz said of Trump. “Our obligation is not to be a cheerleader but to actually provide oversight, and we intend to fulfill that.”
No presidential administration “likes to have Congress poking around,” Chaffetz added, “but it’s what we do.”
At least one Republican on the oversight panel agrees that Trump’s business interests deserve scrutiny.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said Trump “rightly criticized Hillary” over possible conflicts of interest related to the Clinton family foundation.
“If you have contracts w/foreign govts, it’s certainly a big deal, too,” Amash wrote on Twitter, addressing Trump.
“DrainTheSwamp,” Amash added in a hashtag, referring to Trump’s campaign vow to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists, donors and political cronies in the nation’s capital.
Despite his pledge, Trump has tapped a host of insiders and campaign contributors for top posts in his administration, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Friday. Whitehouse urged Trump to adopt ethics rules to reduce the influence of lobbyists and “corporate special interests.”
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