South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy would like to put the Benghazi investigation behind him.
Instead, he said in an interview with McClatchy, he’d like to focus attention on job growth in his congressional district, changes to the criminal justice system and improving race relations in the country.
And he said he’s wary of being pushed back into the spotlight as he was when he chaired the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The committee was the vehicle for Republicans’ years-long probe of the attacks on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.
But that spotlight seems to be creeping back on him as witnesses are called to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee regarding potential Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He’s been making frequent media presentations since the first public interviews.
“The great irony is when I went to see Speaker Paul Ryan. . . . I said, ‘Paul, I want a task that you consider is important, but I want it to be apolitical, nonpartisan and behind the scenes. I don’t want to be associated with anything hyper-partisan because that’s not who I am,’ ” Gowdy said. “And then this happens.”
Gowdy has appeared on Fox News and CBS News since the intelligence hearing but said his desire for all U.S. intelligence hearings on the matter to be closed to the public – rather than just those containing classified information – wouldn’t make him popular with these same news organizations.
Gowdy argued that since it was standard procedure for grand juries and local police departments to conduct investigations in private, the same made sense for Congress.
“If it’s good enough for all those investigations, why is it not good enough for us?” Gowdy said.
Gowdy also defended his decision March 20 at the House Intelligence Committee hearing to push FBI Director James Comey to pursue classified-information leaks to journalists at The Washington Post and The New York Times.
He said that because of his limited amount of time to pose questions and the difficult balance of wanting to investigate the FBI’s Russian influence probe while not jeopardizing an ongoing criminal investigation, he chose to narrow his questions.
“I don’t want journalists to go to jail,” Gowdy told McClatchy. “When you only have five minutes or 10 minutes (for questioning), you have to pick something. It doesn’t mean you don’t think the other issues aren’t important.”
He added that determining the full scope of Russian influence, the motives behind it and who was involved with it were extremely important to him and his constituents in his congressional district.
As a former prosecutor, Gowdy said criminal justice was his passion and he was looking to reintroduce the Justice for Child Victims Act, which would create a compensation fund for victims of child pornography and trafficking, and to tackle domestic violence.
He’s working with his close friend, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, to address race relations and criminal justice.
The two meet for dinner nearly every night, where they have intimate conversations about spirituality and improving racial tolerance in South Carolina.
Scott “has been stopped by the police more in a two-year period than I have been stopped in my life. And I look much more like a threat to society than he does,” Gowdy said.
Gowdy said one of the keys to improving race relations, especially in the state where Charleston shooting occurred, was opening up dinner tables and having open dialogues about each other’s unique experiences.
“Start those lines of communication where if something does happen, you show this united front in outrage and how it is not reflective of our values,” Gowdy said. “You can’t just wait for the tragedy to happen.”