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Chaffetz at center of controversy over FBI director's letter about Clinton emails

FILE — Rep. Jason Chaffetz addresses members of the House of Representative at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.
FILE — Rep. Jason Chaffetz addresses members of the House of Representative at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Monday he's under increased security protection because of death threats following his statement that the FBI has reopened its case against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"People are very highly emotionally charged," Chaffetz said, describing the reaction to his tweet Friday announcing that FBI Director James Comey had contacted congressional leaders as "everything from death threats to elation and joy."

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he has received death threats via both email and voice mail. He declined to discuss security measures being taken other than that they have increased.

Questions have been raised about whether Comey's letter stating the FBI was reviewing "emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state means her case has been reopened.

But Chaffetz stood by his tweet — "FBI Dir just informed me, 'The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.' Case reopened" — that was picked up by media outlets moments after it appeared.

"I thought I would put it out there. People have a right to know. It was newsworthy. It caught me by surprise," the 3rd District congressman said, calling it "a totally accurate statement" to say the case has been reopened.

"It is absolutely correct. They are spending time, money and resources investigating," he said, after the case was closed in July. "Nobody knows where it's going to lead, but the reality is, it is reopened."

The Democratic Coalition Against Trump, a national grass-roots group, announced Monday that it has filed a complaint against Chaffetz with the Office of Congressional Ethics "for his role in releasing information" from Comey.

In a news release, the coalition said Chaffetz, "in an ill-planned partisan attempt, released information that compromised the integrity of the FBI when he irresponsibly tweeted" that the case had been reopened.

On Friday, the coalition lodged a complaint against Comey with the Department of Justice seeking an investigation into whether his letter violated the federal Hatch Act because he appeared to be "making a political move, and not a professional one."

Chaffetz dismissed the ethics complaint against him as "silly." He also said he believes Comey's action was appropriate, even though it came 11 days before the election.

"I think the overriding imperative is to inform Congress if his testimony needed to be changed. Of course he did the right thing," Chaffetz said, although he had suggested "political reasons" were behind Comey's July decision not to recommend charges.

Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said it's no surprise Chaffetz is "leading the charge" on getting the word out about Comey's letter to Congress.

"He himself is a watchdog," Perry said. "He has recently been more partisan in terms of this election, and he has been showing his alliance and loyalty to the Republican Party. He saw this as an investigation, and I have to take him at his word."

Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson said while Chaffetz "is as smart as they come when it comes to those kinds of things," it's too soon to tell whether he made a good move politically.

"We're just going to have to see how this plays out," the leader of the Utah-based conservative think tank said, noting there are calls for the FBI to clarify the situation. "I'm not convinced it's helpful to the party."

The House oversight committee has continued to investigate Clinton, taking testimony from Comey and others. Chaffetz said Monday that will continue because "she took years to create this mess. It's going to take a bit of time to unravel it."

Last week, before Comey's letter, the Washington Post reported Chaffetz and his committee were gearing up to investigate a President Hillary Clinton "We've got two years' worth of material already lined up," Chaffetz told the newspaper.

A day after that story appeared, Chaffetz said in a tweet that he "will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him. HRC is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA."

Chaffetz had been one of the first Republican officials to back away from supporting Trump after a 2005 video surfaced of the billionaire businessman describing making sexual advances on women.

"His actions and words hurt. I said very clearly I cannot defend or explain those in any way, shape or form," Chaffetz said. But he said he sees only two choices in the race, and Clinton "would be the most devastating for the country."


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