House Oversight Committee member Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is House Speaker John Boehner's choice to lead a House Select Committee on Benghazi. / J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Colleagues of the House Republican who will head an expansive committee into Benghazi say he has a reputation as an attack-dog questioner and a prosecutor's talent for getting to the bottom of complex matters.
In just three years in the House, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina has become a favorite of conservatives who believe the Obama administration politicized the intelligence in the attack that left four Americans dead.
At the same time, some Democrats say he may be far too partisan to chair a select committee in which he must handle the investigation with even-handedness.
"Trey Gowdy is as dogged, focused and serious-minded as they come," House Speaker John Boehner said in announcing him as chair of the committee. "His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel."
Gowdy began serving in Congress only in 2011 and has made a name for himself by going after top administration officials with the same fervor he once reserved for murder convicts he sent to death row as a prosecutor in South Carolina, colleagues say.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who sits next to Gowdy on House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said Gowdy "has the respect of both Republicans and Democrats and will be trusted to get to the truth."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said Gowdy may be a smart interrogator, but said he's only seen his "prosecutorial side."
While truth needs to be sought, "I am also in pursuit of fairness," Cummings said. "I am not comfortable that the select committee would meet that standard."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Monday that he will oppose the creation of a select committee.
"We will urge members to vote 'no' on it," Hoyer said.
Congress has historically employed the use of temporary special or select committees to direct special attention or scrutiny to matters of national interest. The committees generally expire when they complete the assigned purpose of the panel, such as producing a report or legislation. One of the more notable select committees was on Watergate in 1973.
Gowdy, 49, graduated from Spartanburg High School in 1982 before going on to Baylor University, where he received a degree in history. He got his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1989.
He spent six years as a federal prosecutor in which he handle cases such as narcotics trafficking rings, bank robberies, child pornography cases, and the murder of a federal witness, according to his official biography. As 7th Circuit Solicitor, he led an office of 25 lawyers and started a Violence Against Women Task Force, expanded drug courts and implemented a Drug Mother Protocol to help expectant mothers end their addictions. He is married with two children.
In a statement, Gowdy said further investigation on Benghazi is necessary because 20 months after the attack, questions remain about why security was inadequate, the U.S. response "during the siege," and the government's public stance on the attack after if was over.
"All of those lines of inquiry are legitimate and should be apolitical. Facts are neither red nor blue," he said. "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 a House representative, once Gowdy gets started, "it's hard to hide from the question," DesJarlais said. "Politicians and witnesses sometimes are trained to give evasive answers. He has an innate ability to evoke the truth."
Gowdy has been an open skeptic of the administration's handling of Benghazi. On Friday he told Fox News he has evidence the administration withheld evidence from Congress and he has said it knowingly pushed an inaccurate story about how the attack got started.
"I have evidence that, not only are they hiding it, there's an intent to hide it," Gowdy said, adding that he can't disclose the evidence yet.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other State Department employees were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. For almost two weeks, State Department and White House officials linked the attack to protests happening across the Muslim world at the time over an anti-Islam video.
President Obama, who was running for re-election at the time, denied in an interview weeks later the attack was terrorism. The administration later released its determination that the attack was planned and carried out by terrorists with links to al-Qaeda and no protest preceded it.
Boehner's announcement Friday that the House will vote whether to set up a select committee came after the publication of an e-mail written by President Obama aide Ben Rhodes urging Susan Rice to focus on the role of an anti-Islam video during her Sept. 16, 2012, talk show appearances about Benghazi and anti-American protests at the time.
The e-mail was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by a conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch after its content had been withheld from Congress despite a subpoena. White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week that Rhodes' talking points were not about Benghazi.
Boehner said in a letter issued Friday that the e-mail shows the Obama administration "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."
"It forces us to ask the question, what else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?" Boehner said.
Cummings says Republicans have conducted their Benghazi investigation "in a completely partisan manner" by denying Democrats access to hearing witnesses, leaking cherry-picked excerpts of depositions to create a false narrative and issuing subpoenas without committee votes, Cummings said.
And Republicans, including Gowdy, never complained in public, "so I do not have much faith that a new select committee will be any different," Cummings said.
Gowdy said Cummings need not worry, pointing out that he was hired by the Department of Justice of then President Clinton in 1994 and received the highest performance rating possible two years in a row.
"I respect Mr Cummings and his work in Congress. 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," Gowdy said.
Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for the oversight committee, denied that Democrats had been excluded from the process. Shesaid a trip to Libya was delayed to allow for them to participate, but they declined.
There is little doubt however that Gowdy has been one of the sharpest administration critics and questioners during House Oversight Committee hearings on Benghazi.
In a previous hearing, the CIA station chief in Tripoli wrote in an e-mail several days after the attack that it was "not/not an escalation of protests," Gowdy insisted that the administration stuck by its "false story."
In September, Gowdy grilled former Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on why former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn't included in State's internal investigation of the Benghazi attack, which Mullen headed.
"How could you look at everything when you don't even bother to interview the person who is ultimately responsible for what happens at the State Department?" Gowdy asked Mullen, who headed the Accountability Review Board that produced the Benghazi report.
On April 10, during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee on whether to hold former IRS director Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to answer questions, Gowdy commented in his South Carolina twang: "Seventeen separate factual assertions.. that's an awful lot of talkin' for someone who wants to remain silent."
Contributing: Susan Davis
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