SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Wednesday he is calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the potential "mishandling" of classified information in news reports about President Donald Trump's now former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
"This situation with information going out the door that may be classified or highly sensitive, that just can't be happening. And it is. So I want them to look at it," Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Deseret News.
In a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice, Chaffetz and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cite recent news reports about Flynn, including those suggesting he may have been vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Flynn resigned Monday after details from anonymous sources were reported about his contact with the Russian ambassador, including that he put himself in "a compromising position" by misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others.
"We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here," the letter states, noting "the release of classified national security information can, by definition, have grave effects on national security."
Chaffetz said in an interview that he was not using the word "leaks" to describe the information provided to reporters.
"We have had a number of things pop up in the media. I don't know if they're true or not," he said.
He said he was "not going after the press" by seeking the investigation.
Asked if the investigation could lead to the prosecution of journalists, he said he was "not trying to set the goal here. I want them to find the truth and examine each situation. But I'm not presupposing the conclusion of anything."
Chaffetz compared it to his committee's ongoing look into how Trump's Democratic presidential opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, might have compromised security with a private email server.
"I'm trying to demonstrate I've handled it the same on both sides of the aisle," he said, noting his committee is also seeking an explanation about how Trump handled classified information at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
And he said questions raised in the news reports about connections between the Trump administration and Russia will be reviewed by both the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"It's going to be covered," Chaffetz said. The "intelligence community has been looking at this for some time and will continue to look at it. To suggest that nothing's happening on that front is inaccurate."
He said that should satisfy his constituents who want Trump's possible ties to Russia investigated, a message that was delivered in a raucous town hall meeting he held in Cottonwood Heights last week that included chants of "Do your job."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the direction Chaffetz has taken with his call for an investigation into the news reports likely won't quell constituent concerns.
"I’m not sure that gets him off the hot seat here," Karpowitz said. "The problem here isn't the leaks. The problem is the substance of what those leaks are telling us. They seem to be pointing at something much more serious."
Karpowitz said the latest investigation "could have a chilling effect on the press and on our ability to really get to the bottom of what happened if that investigation were to target reporters."
He said Chaffetz's "reticence" to pursue the Trump-Russia connection was "extraordinary from someone who promised years of investigations into a Clinton administration."
Chaffetz, who said before the election he had "two years of material already lined up" against the Democratic presidential candidate, suggested the look at Trump and Russia was a better fit for someone else.
The inspector general is nonpartisan and has handled investigations before, he said, while the intelligence committees are well-suited to examine "Russia ties and influence for misdeeds when it comes to sources and methods."
One of Trump's earliest Utah supporters, Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said Utahns "want to see all the facts come out." Chaffetz, he said, "will use good judgment about when and if and how an investigation is done."
The state Senate leader said "right now, the press is kind of working on it pretty hard. And it's kind of their job." He said the reporting being done help "gets us to a point where we have more clarity than if someone just wades in poltiically."
Chaffetz is in the middle of the controversy over how the GOP-controlled Congress is handling the continuing controversies associated with the new Republican president.
The ranking Democrat on the committee expressed his frustration at a news conference Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
"Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said. "That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution. We've been asking for months for basic oversight."
Contributing: The Associated Press