As far as Trey Gowdy is concerned, the Benghazi Committee was a success.
And for the last time, the South Carolina Republican spent the better part of an hour Tuesday fighting the losing battle of convincing the media and the public that his probe into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans is not about politically damaging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“You don’t see that T-shirt on me, and you don’t see that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles,” Gowdy said in exasperation when asked about the slogan “Hillary lied. people died.”
Read the report for yourself. If you can read this report and you believe, on the last page of the report, that it is about one person instead of about four people then there’s nothing I can say that’s going to disabuse you of that.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
“My job is to report facts,” Gowdy said as the House Select Committee on Benghazi he chaired released its 800-page final report. He was careful not to attack Clinton directly or to assign blame.
“You can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw.”
He grew visibly frustrated when reporters challenged him on whether the $7 million investigation had uncovered any new information about the attacks that the seven previous inquiries had not.
“Read this report,” Gowdy shot back. “You can read this report from pillar to post in less time than our fellow Americans were under attack in Benghazi.”
At the news conference, on national television and on social media Tuesday, he repeatedly asked Americans to read the report so they could draw conclusions for themselves.
Gowdy has been on the defensive since being tapped as the chairman of the committee in May 2014, even as it frequently devolved into bitterly partisan bickering between Republicans and the Obama administration. He also was often hampered by his own party, as when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., openly suggested that the committee had been created to sink Clinton’s poll numbers last year.
“Rather than conduct a bipartisan inquiry to see if there was anything the previous investigations might have missed, Gowdy went on a partisan witch-hunt, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and countless hours when he should have been getting things done for his constituents,” Matthew Ellison, South Carolina Democratic Party policy and communications director, said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the committee, their investigation included interviews with 107 witnesses, including 81 who had not been previously questioned by Congress, and reviewed 75,000 pages of documents.
“We are dismayed but sadly not surprised that Trey Gowdy turned the Select Committee on Benghazi into an arm of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign,” Ellison said, echoing Democrats’ own report Monday, which painted the investigation as a partisan smear.
While some Republicans are likely to be disappointed that the committee’s final report did not turn up a bombshell, it’s unlikely to damage Gowdy in the long run.
“The hope of Republicans that Trey Gowdy was going to turn up Watergate-like recordings and have people resigning and everything was a bit farfetched to begin with,” said Dave Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina who advised Gowdy when he first ran for a local prosecutor’s job.
“Lawyers he beat in those trials in Spartanburg always respected him when it was over, and hopefully that’s still the case,” Woodard said. “He follows the rules. He doesn’t try to go over the line. He stayed right where he had evidence and prosecuted the case. He avoids capitalizing on his position for his personal political gain.”
Even so, leading the committee made Gowdy a national name.
Nicknamed “the bulldog” by conservative media, the former South Carolina federal prosecutor amassed an online following for his hard-nosed questioning style. His high-profile investigation, which included an 11-hour interrogation of Clinton last October, earned him so many followers that he became the 10th most popular member of Congress on Twitter. His almost 1 million Facebook fans, many of them not from his state, eagerly share everything he posts.
By Tuesday afternoon, a Facebook video on Gowdy’s page about the report had been shared 20,000 times and thousands of comments thanked him for the committee’s work, many calling him a hero and a few wishing someone of his “character, integrity and fervor” would run for president.
Widespread criticism that the expensive probe was a waste of taxpayer dollars that failed to uncover anything new is unlikely to damage Gowdy in his home state.
“He’s enormously popular in South Carolina, not only in the 4th Congressional District but statewide,” Woodard said. “In the future, he could probably get any job he wanted here.”
The report's findings make clear that we cannot afford to let Hillary Clinton be our next commander in chief.
Republican National Committee statement
Polls show that a number of Americans, most of them Republicans, are convinced that Clinton acted improperly in handling the attacks in Benghazi. The committee’s discovery of her private email server while secretary of state – though accidental – became a damaging issue during her presidential campaign.
The report is careful not to dwell on Clinton and focuses mainly on the chronology of the events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks and the response. It extends responsibility for the four killed Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, beyond Clinton’s State Department to the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the FBI.
Two Republicans on Gowdy’s panel, Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Jim Jordan of Ohio, released their own 48-page supplement Tuesday morning going farther than Gowdy, saying directly that the Obama administration had “misled the public” in the aftermath of the attacks and Clinton had “failed to lead” as secretary of state.
I commend Rep. Gowdy for his role in leading a transparent and nonpartisan investigation into the tragedy.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore also went beyond Gowdy, saying in an email that Gowdy’s report clearly showed a “politically-motivated cover-up” by Clinton and the administration.
“Blatant deception is unacceptable and should disqualify Hillary Clinton from ever being president,” he said.
Fellow South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson praised Gowdy for his “dedicated, fact-driven investigation.”
“From the committee’s thorough and dedicated work, it is clear — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have realized the risks to the mission in Benghazi and its personnel, and I am grateful that the truth is being revealed,” he said.
While most Republicans applauded Gowdy by turning the report into a political indictment of Clinton, the praise from his friend Sen. Tim Scott showed the senator knew him best.
“From the beginning, Trey Gowdy promised a Benghazi investigation that looked at the facts and only the facts,” Scott tweeted.