Chairman Trey Gowdy

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, speaks in an interview 16 October 2015.  (Detail of photo by Getty Images)

“I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life. Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically―at least it is for me.”

Rep. Trey Gowedy (R-SC04)

The first point, to wonder what it is Mr. Gowdy, the chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, thinks he is doing to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should meet resistance; set that urge aside. There is a lot going on, here. Rachel Bade of Politico hopes to explain:

Gowdy says the specifics of his rebuttals don’t matter; he feels he “just can’t win.

“I think that’s just [the Democrats’] MO: If you can’t attack the facts, you can attack the investigators … just attack, attack, attack and something will take hold,” he said. “[A]t some point, maybe something will stick, or maybe you get them off track or you get them to do or say something stupid, then you can seize on that.”

He also lays some blame at the media’s feet, arguing they’re too quick to report Democrats’ accusations without checking the merits, or the story of an ex-committee staffer who accused the panel of focusing on Clinton.

“You can work your entire career to have a reputation, and then someone you have no recollection of ever meeting sits down with a reporter and you’re immediately in a position of having to defend and it’s impossible to prove a negative,” he said.

This is a basic political maneuver very much associated with Karl Rove: Assign your greatest weakness to your opponent. With Republicans, it has pretty much become a tell: “I mean, honestly,” Gowdy complained of Huma Abedin’s testimony, “have you ever heard a more absurd critique than leaking the fact that one of the more recognizable people in the world was coming to Capitol Hill?”

This is a problematic complaint. Trey Gowdy is simply not an honest man.

Jason Linkins of Huffington Post offers the basic sketch:

It’s strange to hear Gowdy testify that attacks on his character are 1,000 times worse than actual bodily harm, considering that most of these “attacks” are merely Clinton loyalists defending her against his committee’s charges that she’s personally responsible for the deaths of four people. The remainder of Gowdy’s extant torments are all coming in the form of self-inflicted wounds that have impaled his committee’s credibility here at the outset of this climactic week. Now, Gowdy’s taken his, “I just can’t win” act to Politico, and the result is alternately tragic and comic. In fact, here’s the most emblematic sentence in the piece:

Gowdy worked behind closed doors for 18 months in an effort to keep the committee’s work out of the political fray. But his strategy started unraveling after three Republicans suggested the committee was aimed at hurting Clinton in the polls. Democrats pounced, newspaper editorials called for the panel to be disbanded, and now there are calls from commentators of all stripes for Gowdy to reveal what he’s uncovered.

See, what makes this so ha-ha funny is that Gowdy didn’t so much work “behind closed doors” to stay above “the fray,” as much as he repeatedly leaked the committee’s goings-on to Politico. And what makes this so boo-hoo sad is that his Republican colleagues keep selling him out as leading what amounts to a partisan witch hunt.

This paragraph also includes a fun challenge for the reader: figuring out how to feel about the “strategy” it describes. You almost feel sorry for it, because it’s described as “unraveling,” and it’s sad when things unravel! But then you remember that this “strategy” never actually existed in the first place, and then it’s hard to get too emotional about it. I guess this is the part of the Politico story where you “choose your own adventure.”

And it is true; not only is the Palmetto Republican leading the personal attack against Hillary Clinton, demanding she prove an amorphous negative, committee Republicans also have a nasty habit of leaking intentionally-crafted deceptive excerpts of their business. Earlier this month, committee Democrats fired back, threatening to release unedited transcripts of witness interviews. Chairman Gowdy responded with the Congressional version of, “Nuh-uh! I’m rubber, you’re glue!” Or, as Steve Benen tells it:

Two days later, Gowdy did, in fact, respond with a lengthy, angry missive. The full, 13-page letter is online here (pdf), and though it’s difficult to excerpt, there was one claim raised by the GOP congressman that stood out for me. Responding to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gowdy wrote:

“[I]t is you, not the Republicans, who has selectively leaked information to promote your own false narrative – that this Committee is political – or protect Democrat [sic] political figures, when it is a fact Democrats and you are the ones who have treated the Committee as political from the outset.”

Or put another way, Gowdy, annoying by accusations that he and his team have been responsible to deceptive leaks, effectively seems to be arguing, “I know you are but what am I?”

And in some cases, such a response is acceptable, even warranted. If Gowdy were falsely accused by Democrats of doing something Democrats are themselves guilty of, it stands to reason the far-right congressman might try to set the record straight by turning the tables on the hypocrisy.

But in this case, reality points in a different direction. There’s documented proof of Republicans on the Benghazi panel selectively leaking misleading information to the press. Indeed, it’s happened more than once. A few months ago, Gowdy adopted a tone in which he appeared to “wink at the e-mail leaks,” tacitly admitting that he’s done precisely what Democrats have accused him of doing.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Brian Beutler of The New Republic offers the latest, worn past the point of ironic, gem:

When the committee began to drift from its nominal investigative purpose—the 2012 attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed—and focus on unrelated aspects of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state from 2009-2013, it invited comparisons to the GOP-led fishing expeditions of the 1990s, which culminated in the partisan impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and discredited his leading critics.

The comparison became inescapable this weekend, when the top Democrat on the Benghazi committee revealed that its Republican chairman, Trey Gowdy, had fabricated a redaction to Clinton’s emails to make it look like she’d endangered a spy, and the CIA had busted her. Gowdy even mimicked intelligence community vernacular, designating the redaction as undertaken to protect “sources and methods,” without disclosing that he was the redactor or that the CIA had cleared the name he redacted for release.

This flagrant misconduct has barely pierced the consciousness of the political scribes who have treated every selective Benghazi leak with as much credulity and legitimacy as lower-fanfare congressional investigations, even after their media peers have been burned—repeatedly—by intentionally deceptive leaks. Conservatives, too, are ignoring or brushing off the impropriety. But Benghazi committee errors are piling up so rapidly, and timed so impeccably for Hillary Clinton’s public testimony before the committee this Thursday, that it seems for once like Republicans might tamp down on the Hillary misdirection of their own volition, much as they did in the 1990s when a similarly unfocused obsession with the Clintons damaged their party.

Here’s a fun reminder from that article: In 1998, the House Oversight Committee investigation into President Bill Clinton’s trumped up scandals even tried editing transcripts in order to convince the press that evidence implicated Hillary Clinton in wrongdoing. Here we are, in 2015, and it really ought to be a little tougher than it is to remember what that was like. Still, though, that gambit ended up costing then Chairman Dan Burton an aide, named David Bossie, who is these days most infamous for leading an organization known far and wide as Citizens United.

Ah! Republicans!

Then again, we digress. Perhaps more striking than Mr. Gowdy’s inability to conduct himself in an honest manner is the presumption that such naked, perverse lies fool anyone who actually gives them a shadow of a whiff of something resembling scrutiny waved in their general direction. Think of it this way: Rep. Gowdy knows the only way you can believe what he tells us now is if you have not been paying attention at all throughout the multiphasic Benghazi investigation.

The strange thing here is the relationship between the political calculus and optics. It would seem obvious by the optics that lying as Mr. Gowdy does serves no useful purpose civic or political. Yet the South Carolina Repubilcan is willing to try, so it also seems reasonable to wonder at the calculus describing the outcome he hopes for. Then again, there is always the fundraising question.

The Seal of Speaker Boehner's House of RepresentativesThis is how it goes.

This is your House Select Committee on Benghazi.

This is your House GOP.

This is Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina’s Fourth Congressional District, Greenville, Spartanburg, and environs.


Image note: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, speaks in an interview 16 October 2015. (Detail of photo by Getty Images)

Bade, Rachel. “‘These have been among the worst weeks of my life'”. Politico. 18 October 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Benghazi committee goes off the rails”. msnbc. 16 July 2015

—————. “Benghazi panel plagued by partisan disputes”. msnbc. 9 October 2015.

—————. “The ‘political charade’ on Benghazi comes into focus”. msnbc. 23 April 2015.

—————. “What conspiratorial madness looks like”. msnbc. 2 May 2014.

—————. “When Republican fundraising goes too far”. msnbc. 7 May 2014.

Beutler, Brian. “The Benghazi Witch-Hunt Against Hillary Is Backfiring Just Like Bill Clinton’s Impeachment”. The New Republic. 19 October 2015.

Correct the Record. “Gowdy Cancels Fundraising off Benghazi; CTR Urges Gowdy to Withdraw from Additional Fundraisers”. 22 September 2015.

Gowdy, Trey. “Letter to the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings”. House Select Committee on Benghazi. 7 October 2015.

Linkins, Jason. “Trey Gowdy Reveals The Latest Benghazi Casualty: Trey Gowdy”. THe Huffington Post. 19 October 2015.

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