WASHINGTON — The lawmaker chosen to lead the House panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi tragedy is an unabashed supporter of the Tea Party movement who still considers himself more of a prosecutor than a professional politician.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was tabbed to fill the chairmanship of the newly formed select committee to investigate the State Department’s handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Several House and Senate committees have been delving into the events surrounding the attack and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had exhibited reluctance about forming a special committee. He decided to proceed on May 2, asserting that the White House is so “intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the people’s House.”
“Four of our fellow citizens were murdered, and a facility emblematic and representative of our country was attacked and burned on the anniversary of 9-11,” Gowdy said. “Our fellow citizens are full well capable of processing the truth about the attacks and aftermath, and most assuredly entitled to hear it.”
Twenty months after the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks, Gowdy said, unresolved questions remain about inadequate security, the U.S. response and the government’s interaction with the public after the attack.
“All of those lines of inquiry are legitimate and should be apolitical,” Gowdy said. “Facts are neither red nor blue.”
The House on Thursday voted 232-186 along party lines, Republicans forming the majority, to investigate all policies, decisions and activities that contributed to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya and affected the ability of the U.S. to prepare for the onslaught. The committee also is empowered to look into the Obama administration’s efforts to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators and gather information related to lessons learned from the attacks.
“This resolution equips the select committee with the scope and tools necessary for the seriousness of this investigation,” Gowdy said after the vote. “We are charged with a clear mission — uncover all the facts and provide answers to the American public. While people are free to draw different conclusions from the facts, there should be no debate over whether the American public is entitled to have all of the facts. As chairman, my goal is to conduct an inquiry that is rooted in fairness, is fact-driven and worthy of the trust of the American public, regardless of one’s political affiliation.”
The choice of Gowdy to lead the special committee is interesting from several perspectives. The lawmaker and Boehner, who plucked Gowdy from the ranks of the 233 GOP members of Congress to lead it, are not considered close. Gowdy told Politico in May 2012: “I don’t know the speaker well.”
While Boehner is viewed as representing the Republican Party establishment, Gowdy has a reputation as a conservative bomb-thrower, earned as a result of his frequent vituperative questioning of Obama administration officials at committee hearings. Gowdy is a darling of the Tea Party, a movement that scorns the speaker as being too willing to compromise.
Gowdy has not always, in fact, followed Boehner’s lead. He was among those who lined up to oppose Boehner’s proposal to end the debt limit crisis in 2011 and wound up voting against the final agreement. He was a frequent attendee at a dinner group that featured Republicans with Tea Party ties, fellow lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), where they discussed ways to force the GOP leadership to be more forceful in pushing the party’s agenda.
But in appointing Gowdy, Boehner characterized him as being as “dogged, focused and serious-minded as they come.”
“His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel,” Boehner said. “I know he shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration.”
Gowdy carries “the confidence of this (Republican) conference,” Boehner said, adding that the lawmaker’s “professionalism and grit will earn him the respect of the American people.”
But choosing Gowdy opens Boehner and the select committee to charges that they are staging something less than the “apolitical” investigation Gowdy promised since he already has drawn conclusions and publicly stated his views about the administration’s actions related to Benghazi.
On May 5, during a House Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing, Gowdy cited a State Department email regarding Benghazi, stating “this is Sept. 12, Mr. Chairman, this is well before the administration began misleading the American people.”
Furthermore, citing an email from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, to Susan Rice, the former U.N. ambassador and current national security advisor, seeking to shape the way she addressed the Benghazi situation, Gowdy said: “The goal was to do everything we can to deflect attention away from this feckless foreign policy we have in the Middle East that isn’t working.”
On May 2, before the Boehner appointment, Gowdy told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News that he holds evidence of “a systematic, intentional decision to withhold certain documents from Congress” regarding Benghazi and what he views as an ongoing White House cover-up.
Such statements have not escaped the attention of the House Democratic leadership, which is weighing the possibility of simply boycotting the special panel by refusing to appoint members of the minority.