Chaffetz will leave Congress June 30; Gowdy favored as next House Oversight chairman

(Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Thursday that he will leave Congress on June 30, citing “big changes in his life” in a public letter to constituents.

“Julie and I are facing the reality of being empty nesters,” he wrote. “All of us, it appears, are ready to begin a new chapter.”

Chaffetz’s departure opens up one of the most powerful and closely scrutinized posts on Capitol Hill — the House majority’s chief inquisitor — amid serious questions about wrongdoing at the highest levels of the Trump administration.

An early favorite for the post emerged Thursday: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who led the contentious House investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya — though it was unclear whether Gowdy wants the job.

Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced last month that he had “made a personal decision to return to the private sector” and would not seek reelection or run for any other political office in 2018. He has not ruled out a run for Utah governor in 2020.

The decision comes days after Chaffetz took an aggressive posture after reports emerged that former FBI director James B. Comey alleged in private memos that he had been pressured by President Trump to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser at the time.

Chaffetz requested those memos and other records from the FBI on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he scheduled a hearing for next week in anticipation that Comey might testify.

But the probe is certain to continue under a new chairman. The internal jockeying among House Republicans to succeed Chaffetz in that high-profile role kicked off Thursday, with at least three Oversight panel members phoning members of the House Republican Steering Committee, which will select his successor.

Multiple steering committee members said they had been contacted by Gowdy, Dennis Ross (Fla.) and Steve Russell (R-Okla.) about their interest in the post.

But it is Gowdy, several leading House Republicans said Thursday, who has a clear leg up in the contest. He is a former state and federal prosecutor who led the high-profile, two-year Benghazi investigation, and he is well-liked inside the House GOP.

“If he wants it, it’s his, no question,” said one steering committee member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about the pending race.

“I think he would have a pretty good shot at it,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Gowdy did not answer questions Thursday about his interest in the position, and his spokeswoman acknowledged discussions but would not say he is actively…

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