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Will Chaffetz committee continue to probe Clinton?

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 — Now that President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear he doesn't want to pursue an investigation into rival Hillary Clinton, will Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, go forward with his promised probe?

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, declined to comment on Trump's new stand, spelled out during an interview Tuesday with reporters and editors at the New York Times.

But Trump's decision to "move forward" from his threat to go after the Democratic presidential nominee from the White House may mean that Chaffetz is rethinking his committee's look into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state.

"I think he's in a tight spot," said Chris Karpowitz of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. "That type of action tends to look like you're going after political enemies, not serving the legitimate oversight duties of Congress."

The center's co-director said with a new Republican administration and continued GOP control of Congress, "continuing to rehash the ethical challenges of Hillary Clinton will seem petty and hyperpartisan."

Particularly since Democrats, including the committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, are already calling for a review of Trump's finances for potential conflicts of interest between his business empire and the presidency.

"Significant questions have been raised about how the Trump administration is going to balance private business interests with the public interest," Karpowitz said, but it is unclear if those will be pursued "with the same doggedness and vigor."

Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson, however, said Chaffetz has already helped shift the committee from being seen as "nothing more than witch hunt central" for whatever party was in power in Congress.

Still, he said, it won't be easy balancing Trump's signaled desire to focus on other issues rather than "risk a petty, political, poking around" into Clinton's emails and family foundation with calls to dig into the new president's finances.

Chaffetz will "definitely be the one at the tip of the spear on that," Matheson said, but he also has an opportunity to elevate the committee "in a way that's better for the country. That's huge. That's a heavy lift."

Trump told the Times that "we'll have people do things," suggesting that could mean some sort of continued investigation of Clinton, even though that will not be a priority for the new administration.

"I don't want to hurt the Clintons, I really don't," Trump said, despite dubbing the former secretary of state "Crooked Hillary" and leading chants to "lock her up" during the campaign.

Trump said that Clinton "went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways" in what he termed a "vicious" campaign that saw him pledge during a debate to appoint a special prosecutor with the intent of putting her in jail.

Even before Trump's Nov. 8 victory, Chaffetz said his committee would not halt its investigation into whether Clinton's private email server threatened national security.

He said he was under increased security after receiving death threats for announcing shortly before the election that the FBI had reopened its case against Clinton because of a letter to congressional leaders about reviewing additional emails.

The review turned up nothing new, and Clinton blamed her loss on the attention it drew to the FBI's earlier investigation that had concluded in July she should not be criminally prosecuted.

The day after the election, Chaffetz said it would "be totally remiss" for the committee to dismiss its investigation because Clinton would not be president. He had said he did not expect to call Clinton to testify.

"I still have a duty and obligation to get to the truth about one of the largest breaches of security at the State Department," Chaffetz told the Washington Post. "Tens of thousands of documents still have not been turned over to Congress."

Chaffetz initially backed away from his support of Trump after a 2005 video surfaced of a conversation Trump had with a TV host describing in graphic terms making sexual advances on women.

But in late October, shortly after telling the Post the committee had "two years' worth of material already lined up" should Clinton become president, Chaffetz said he would vote for Trump after all.

In a tweet, the Utah congressman said then that he "will not defend or endorse (Trump) but I am voting for him. HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA."