Chaffetz skewered over 9/11 conspiracy comments
Chaffetz skewered over 9/11 conspiracy comments
Politics » About the attacks, congressman says, 'There's a lot we still need to learn.'
By Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:02/19/2010 06:30:11 PM MST
Washington » At often-unpredictable town hall meetings last week, two Utah politicians faced questions from people who believe the government has committed major conspiracies.
But only one of them landed in hot water for his murky answer.
Liberal blogs and pundits have skewered Rep. Jason Chaffetz for comments that seemed to support further investigation into claims the U.S. government perpetrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On Tuesday, a group with a video camera asked Chaffetz about the "9/11 truther" movement and Chaffetz said: "There's a lot we still need to learn." The next day Chaffetz tried to clarify his statement and say he doesn't believe in the conspiracy. He told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that he should have been more direct.
In contrast, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was asked a day later whether he would investigate President Barack Obama's citizenship because some people claim he is not a naturally born American. Hatch said it was a fair question, but one that has been put to rest. Obama was born in Hawaii and his mother was an American citizen.
"I am satisfied he fits the requirements [for the presidency]," Hatch said before a group of about 300 at American Fork Junior High.
Politicians often face uncomfortable questions asked by passionate people and answering them can be a bit like walking a tight rope, said Kirk Jowers, the director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
"In my experience in working with candidates, most of them want to be liked and it can be their biggest weakness," he said. "Elected officials want to stay in the good graces of the audience and the person asking the question, and they will sometimes participate in incredible verbal gymnastics to avoid angering the crowd."
Joe Hunter has been involved in Utah politics for 30 years and most recently served as former Rep. Chris Cannon's chief of staff. He said it is not only human nature, but good politics, to be respectful to people asking a question, even if it is one the politician disagrees with strongly.
"On one hand what you need to do is be respectful of the question and understand how important it is to the person who is asking it," he said. "But at the end of the day you have to leave a clear answer to the question, even if perhaps that means not making them completely happy."
While Hunter thinks the reaction Chaffetz has received is overblown, he understands how people could have seen the interaction and thought that Chaffetz was an ally of the 9/11 truthers.
"Probably in hindsight he could have done a little bit better job," Hunter said.
Chaffetz never said he supported the group We Are The Change, which believes that the World Trade Center collapsed because of explosives planted at the base of the buildings, not because of the airlines crashing into the towers.
But he did seem to indicate the issue was worthy of investigation.
During the exchange, a man asked Chaffetz if he had "given much thought to the possibility it was a false flag terrorist attack on 9/11?"
He replied: "Well, I know there's still a lot to learn about what happened and what didn't happen. We should be vigilant and continue to investigate that, absolutely."
The congressman also said he has talked with retired Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones, who supports the 9/11 truther movement and that Jones has done "interesting work."
Bloggers jumped on the video linking it to the words of Van Jones, an official in the Obama administration who resigned after blistering criticism from Fox News' Glenn Beck because his name appeared on a petition for 911Truth.org.
The next day, Chaffetz released a statement on his congressional Web site attempting to clarify his comments, saying the Sept. 11 attacks deserve constant study, though he doesn't believe a conspiracy occurred.
Upon reflection, Chaffetz said he could have handled the question better.
"I was being accessibly nice and polite and I should have been more firm and direct," he said Friday. "I want to be crystal clear, I do not sympathize nor do I agree with the idea or notion that there was any sort of government conspiracy."
Chaffetz said he was attempting to give a "very benign generic answer" in part because he wasn't familiar with the terminology used in the question, namely "false flag terrorist attack," which means an attack meant to look like it was perpetrated by one group when it really came from another.
While he was attempting to be polite when asked the question, Chaffetz was decidedly more blunt in explaining his answer.
"I haven't followed these folks very close because I think they are in part nuts," he said. "I'm not apologizing for any part of my answer, it was purposely vague while also trying to be as polite as I can."