Political News

Trey Gowdy, Who Led House Benghazi Inquiry, Will Not Seek Re-election

Posted January 31, 2018 7:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 7:04 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who was swept into office with the Tea Party wave of 2010 and became one of the best-known investigators on Capitol Hill, said on Wednesday that he was leaving the House.

“There is a time to come and a time to go,” Gowdy wrote on Twitter. He said that he did not plan to file for re-election in the coming weeks and would not seek higher office.

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been threatening to leave elected office for years. He has told associates that he wants to be a federal judge, ideally at the appellate level. On Wednesday, he said only that he planned to return to the world of criminal justice.

A person familiar with the lawmaker’s plans said that Gowdy had turned down an offer by the Trump administration to nominate him for a judgeship on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and that he planned to enter private practice in South Carolina instead.

“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” he said in a statement. “As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding.”

Gowdy, 53, made his name on Capitol Hill as one of Congress’ most strategic and polarizing investigators. As the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, he led one of the longest and most bruisingly partisan congressional investigations in history. The committee ultimately found no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.

But the committee’s work had another lasting effect: It discovered that Clinton had used a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The revelation would lead to an FBI investigation and would dog Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Gowdy won the chairmanship of the powerful Oversight Committee last year, after the early retirement of another rising Republican, Jason Chaffetz of Utah. He has been criticized in that role by Democrats who say he was more interested in using the committee’s powers to look backward and investigate the administration of President Barack Obama than that of Trump.

At the same time, Gowdy has taken a prominent role in one of the highest-profile investigations on Capitol Hill in years: the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Gowdy helped lead the questioning of witnesses for Republicans on the committee, and has played a significant role in assembling a contentious secret memo that purportedly shows the FBI and Justice Department abused their authorities to obtain a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser.

The memo has set off a firestorm, prompting showdowns between Democrats and Republicans, as well as the White House and the FBI and Justice Department.

News of Gowdy’s departure on Wednesday proved to be as polarizing as his tenure.

Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Gowdy would be “sorely missed” in Congress and said he “exemplifies the persona of a public servant.”

But Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said that Gowdy had “made a mockery of congressional oversight” and that he had overseen, in the Benghazi investigation, “a dark and shameful chapter in the history of the House of Representatives.”

Another lawmaker, Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., said Wednesday that he, too, would not seek re-election. Brady was facing a primary challenger, and the FBI had been investigating whether the Philadelphia lawmaker illegally paid a political opponent to drop out of a 2012 primary race. Brady has denied any wrongdoing.

Gowdy is the most recent in a string of Republican committee leaders who have announced they will not seek re-election in the fall. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, made his departure plans known on Monday. Including Gowdy, the number of Republican House members leaving for various reasons has now surpassed 40, an unusually large figure at this point in the election cycle that is helping fuel Democrats’ optimism that they can retake the House.

Unlike other chairmen, however, Gowdy was not facing an imminent term limit on his chairmanship, and he did not have a competitive re-election fight ahead. He represents a safely Republican district that is unlikely to change party hands in the fall.