Secret Service Hearing Spotlights Chaffetz’s Chairmanship Hopes
The sudden resignation Wednesday of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was about more than a single fence-jumping incident at the White House or Tuesday’s troubling hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. Jason Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call.
The Utah Republican, who earned notice — especially in GOP circles — for his forceful questioning of Pierson at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, said the turn of events over the past 24 hours really is the culmination of months of a painstaking bipartisan probe of a troubled federal agency.
“I’ve been investigating the Secret Service for more than a year,” Chaffetz said, referencing work done by his Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Secret Service. Chaffetz, who has developed sources within the agency, said the pressure leading to Pierson’s departure had been building.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to what happened at the White House,” Chaffetz said.
After the Secret Service initially downplayed the Sept. 19 breach, The Washington Post reported the intrusion was far more extensive than indicated — and revealed the agency had also “fumbled” the response to a shooting incident almost three years earlier at the White House.
Chaffetz was rumored to be a key source in that news report — something he refused to comment on Wednesday night. “I can’t talk about that,” he said.
The third-term congressman, who is in the midst of a four-way battle with fellow Republicans Michael R. Turner of Ohio, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and John L. Mica of Florida to succeed Darrell Issa as Oversight chairman, also didn’t want to talk about whether his star turn in Tuesday’s hearing would help his bid for the gavel.
But it is clear the blistering questioning of Pierson has raised the 47-year-old Republican’s profile.
“Savvy Utah Lawmaker Leads GOP on Secret Service,” read one ABC News headline.
“Secret Service chief resigns after Chaffetz-led call for resignation,” read another in his home-state Salt Lake Tribune.
Chaffetz — who has made repairing frayed relationships with Democrats on the Oversight committee part of his bid for the chairmanship — on Wednesday said ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Issa deserve credit for the committee’s work on the Secret Service lapses.
“Don’t get me wrong: I did this in conjunction with Chairman Issa,” Chaffetz said. “He’s been very helpful on this.” (See related story.)
And while Chaffetz led the Republican charge in calling for Pierson’s resignation — he went on Fox News after Tuesday’s hearing and said she should be fired — Cummings wasn’t far behind, expressing his own doubts about the embattled director’s ability to fix the agency on Wednesday morning.
“That was no accident,” Chaffetz said. “I have been sharing items of interest with Elijah Cummings for months. This is not the first time he heard about problems at the Secret Service.”
After an explosive confrontation earlier this year in which Issa ordered Cummings’ microphone turned off mid-sentence, many members say the next chairman needs to have a better relationship with the committee’s ranking Democrat. And Chaffetz’s ability to keep Cummings in the loop — even bring him along in calling for an official to resign — could appeal to Republicans looking to keep the committee’s focus on holding the White House to account, not personality clashes.
“We’re not going to agree on everything, but I do think we trust each other,” Chaffetz said of Cummings. “And that’s healthy.”
Chaffetz said he hoped his work on the subcommittee shows he can do things in a bipartisan way, he’s serious about the subject matter, and he can produce results.
“We shed light where nobody else was looking. I shouldn’t hear about these things before the president of the United States. But we did,” Chaffetz said. “And that’s no accident.”