SALT LAKE CITY —Jason Chaffetz stood behind the curtain of the high school auditorium, listening to the fire marshal try to calm the crowd. It was early February, just weeks after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and Chaffetz, a five-term congressman, had come to Cottonwood Heights to hold his first town hall since the election.
Police had warned him not to bring his family. In secret, Facebook groups agitation had been growing for weeks. More than 1,000 protesters stood outside: soccer moms who’d driven from Provo, bearded granolas in Patagonia fleece with spray-painted signs demanding he keep Utah wild, lefties who’d driven up from California and Arizona. A few protesters were masked and dressed in black. They worried Chaffetz most. They carried guns and, he would later learn, were prowling the parking lot trying to find his car.
Out on the stage the fire marshal was getting nowhere. He was trying to point out the exits, in case of mayhem, but the crowd had no interest. Let them in, they chanted of the protesters outside. Utah was known for being civil and calm. This didn’t feel like Utah. This didn’t feel like home.
He had become a target, the face of Republican fecklessness. At his D.C. office, his young staffers fielded calls from all over the country, hundreds a day, demanding he investigate Trump. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz had risen to national prominence for his aggressive inquiries into missteps by the Obama administration, making him a hero to the “Fox and Friends” crowd.
He’d hammered the Secret Service, demanded documents on the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, and most notably, grilled Hillary Clinton for hours on the deaths of four Americans at a compound in Benghazi, Libya. So why wasn’t he investigating Donald Trump? People asked him this wherever he went, at the airport, at Five Guys when he was standing in line for a burger. Tonight they wanted answers.
He stepped out from behind the curtain.