Gowdy brings rep­u­ta­tion of le­gal skills to Beng­hazi in­ves­tiga­tive panel

Some see fu­ture at­tor­ney gen­eral

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFIN­SKI

The rule of law col­ors ev­ery­thing for Rep. Trey Gowdy, from the in­dig­nant pros­e­cu­to­rial style he em­ploys in Capi­tol Hill hear­ings to his three dogs, aptly named Judge, Jury and Bailiff.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike say the sec­ond-term South Carolina Repub­li­can is the right man to head the spe­cial con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Beng­hazi, a job that could spring­board him into po­si­tions such as at­tor­ney gen­eral or ser­vice in a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion. But they also say the forth­right for­mer pros­e­cu­tor isn’t likely to cut cor­ners on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to score po­lit­i­cal points or raise his pro­file.

“I’ve put a lot of kids through law school, and there’s just some people who can do it and some people [who] can’t,” said Dave Woodard, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Clem­son Univer­sity who has served as an ad­viser to Mr. Gowdy. “And he’s one that could. Ex­tremely well-pre­pared but very ef­fec­tive in the court­room. And that’s where he built his rep­u­ta­tion.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, an­nounced Mr. Gowdy as chair­man of the com­mit­tee even be­fore law­mak­ers of­fi­cially voted to es­tab­lish the panel — a sign of the level of faith the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship has in Mr. Gowdy, 49.

Mr. Gowdy’s of­fice de­clined in­ter­views in the days af­ter his se­lec­tion, but the con­gress­man told “Fox News Sun­day” this week that other in­ves­ti­ga­tions on Capi­tol Hill have not pro­duced an­swers to plenty of ques­tions about the 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tack on the U.S. out­post in Beng­hazi, Libya.

Among those ques­tions are why the U.S. was still in Beng­hazi de­spite the se­cu­rity risks and what Pres­i­dent Obama was do­ing at the time of the at­tack.

“I have no friends to re­ward and no foes to pun­ish. We’re go­ing to go wher­ever the facts take us,” Mr. Gowdy said. “Facts are nei­ther Repub­li­can nor Demo­crat. They are facts. And if we over­play our hand or if we en­gage in a process that is not fair ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can people, we will be pun­ished as we should be for that.”

Mr. Gowdy gained at­ten­tion over the past year for his tough ques­tion­ing dur­ing House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. He was the law­maker who most force­fully ar­gued the case that for­mer In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice em­ployee Lois G. Lerner waived her right to re­main silent af­ter she de­liv­ered a state­ment pro­fess­ing her in­no­cence at her first com­mit­tee ap­pear­ance last year.

Mr. Gowdy has an im­pres­sive three bills that have been signed into law dur­ing his short time in Congress, and he serves on choice com­mit­tees in­clud­ing the Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee, the Ethics Com­mit­tee and the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. He is chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary panel’s im­mi­gra­tion sub­com­mit­tee, putting him in the cen­ter of an­other rag­ing pol­icy de­bate.

For­mer Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Vir­ginia Repub­li­can who headed a num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions as chair­man of the over­sight com­mit­tee, said Mr. Gowdy’s back­ground will serve him well.

“He’s not what I’d call a ‘red meat’ Repub­li­can,” said Mr. Davis. “He has a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing thought­ful and thor­ough. And he’s a pros­e­cu­tor, so he knows how to [sep­a­rate] fact from fic­tion. So I think that’s why he’s there.”

Deal­ing with Democrats

Mr. Gowdy’s first job as chair­man will be to try to per­suade Democrats to ap­point five al­lot­ted mem­bers to the com­mit­tee. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, and her aides have not tipped their hand on a de­ci­sion.

Mr. Davis, who led a se­lect com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing the govern­ment’s re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, said Demo­cratic lead­ers boy­cotted the in­quiry, so he in­vited Gulf Coast law­mak­ers to join in­de­pen­dently.

The Beng­hazi panel will look into the pol­icy and se­cu­rity ques­tions sur­round­ing the Septem­ber 2012 at­tack on the U.S. out­post in Libya that re­sulted in the deaths of the U.S. am­bas­sador and three other Amer­i­cans.

Mr. Gowdy made his first stum­ble by por­tray­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a trial and the White House as the de­fen­dant. He con­ceded on Fox that per­haps he needed to get out of a 16-year habit of speak­ing in trial metaphors.

Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, a Vir­ginia Demo­crat who serves with Mr. Gowdy on the House over­sight panel, said the trial anal­ogy gave him pause.

Af­ter con­grat­u­lat­ing Mr. Gowdy on the ap­point­ment, Mr. Con­nolly re­called, “I said, ‘ You have a choice. This is an op­por­tu­nity for you to make your mark as a fair and bal­anced chair­man who’s ca­pa­ble of re­sist­ing the baser pres­sures from your echo cham­ber on the right and rise to the oc­ca­sion and show some stature, or you can be re­mem­bered as just an­other flack who ran it in a par­ti­san fash­ion with very lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity who came and went.”

Mr. Con­nolly has­tened to add that he has a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Gowdy and wasn’t try­ing to be con­fronta­tional.

“But I was say­ing you’ve got two clear paths, and it mat­ters which one you choose,” he said. “I like Trey Gowdy, and we’ve be­come very friendly and we have jousted, but done it in a civil and mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful way, and we’ll see whether we have an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand on that.”

‘He’s that good’

Mr. Woodard met Mr. Gowdy be­fore his first po­lit­i­cal run for so­lic­i­tor, South Carolina’s equiv­a­lent to a district at­tor­ney, in 2000. Af­ter win­ning elec­tion, Mr. Gowdy in­stantly changed the cul­ture of the po­si­tion from del­e­ga­tor to lit­i­ga­tor.

“I mean, he knew just where to run that court case to get a con­vic­tion,” Mr. Woodard said with a chuckle. “And he knew ex­actly where he was on solid ground and where there was weak ground, and he didn’t go to the weak ground.”

Mr. Gowdy’s pur­suit of jus­tice oc­ca­sion­ally made him a tar­get. He, his wife, Terri, and his two chil­dren some­times found a deputy sher­iff stay­ing in their home be­cause of threats re­sult­ing from high-pro­file cases he pros­e­cuted, Mr. Woodard re­called.

Mr. Woodard said that if Mr. Gowdy suc­ceeds as chair­man of the se­lect com­mit­tee and a Repub­li­can wins the White House in 2016, the con­gress­man could be at the top of the list of at­tor­ney gen­eral can­di­dates.

“I think that could hap­pen. He’s that good,” he said. “He’s not quick to speak — kind of slow. But when he says some­thing, he re­ally, you know, car­ries some weight. He won’t turn this into a witch hunt. He’s not a wild-eyed sort of guy who does things like that.”

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