Reports surfaced Tuesday that former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has agreed to help President Donald Trump mount a legal defense to the House’s impeachment inquiry. (Although apparently Gowdy can't formally join the team until January 2020 due to lobbying restrictions.) The addition of Gowdy to Team Trump comes as the White House has effectively declared war on the Constitution’s separation of powers by refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation. Labeling the inquiry “unconstitutional” in a letter sent to House Democratic leaders, White House counsel Pat Cipollone revealed what is sure to be the tenor of the Trump defense moving forward.
Gowdy, who decided not to seek re-election in 2018, has spent the past year appearing regularly on Fox News. Maybe after years of criticizing the toxic, uncivil nature of Washington, he found he actually missed it. Or maybe he was just bored. But either way,
The addition of Gowdy to Team Trump comes as the White House has effectively declared war on the Constitution’s separation of powers by refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives.
Gowdy is the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee and most notably, was the chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. I first met him when he was a freshman member of Congress in 2011. At the time, I was the spokesperson and a senior adviser for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. New to the majority, we were looking for bold, young Republicans who could play leading roles at the committee. Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. attorney, was at the top of our list. My boss at the time, California Rep. Darrell Issa, gave Gowdy a subcommittee chairmanship, an unusual prize for a freshman member.
It didn’t take long for Gowdy to become one of the most visible members of the committee. Internally, we thought of him as one of the most capable, reliable and consistent members. Behind the scenes, our press shop worked to elevate and promote Gowdy. Personally, I found him to be one of the most articulate defenders of congressional oversight in the entire Congress.
When President Barack Obama exerted executive privilege to prevent the committee from obtaining Justice Department documents, Trey Gowdy lead our effort to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. “The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress no matter whether you are the party in power or not in power is wrong,” Gowdy said in 2012. “Respect for the rule of law must mean something, irrespective of the vicissitudes of political cycles.”
When Republicans in Congress wanted to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration for executive overreach, Gowdy was the lead sponsor of the bill saying: “This administration’s disregard for the law has reached an unprecedented level from a constitutional perspective. We have pursued certain remedies afforded to Congress to address executive overreach but these efforts have been thwarted. This bill is necessary; it will give Congress the authority to defend this branch of government as the framers and our fellow citizens would expect.”
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent 11 hours in front of Gowdy’s Benghazi panel in October of 2015, he opened the hearing by saying the proceeding was “about the fundamental obligation of our government to tell the truth — always — to the American people.” Gowdy also made it a point to attack congressional Democrats for not joining his efforts to “make long awaited documents [and witnesses] available” saying “that may be smart politics, but it is not the way to run a serious investigation.”
As Gowdy prepares to advise and support Donald Trump’s obstruction of Congress, I can’t help but remember what he said on Oct. 22, 2015. “We are the greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known,” he told his colleagues and Secretary Clinton. “And part of that self-governance includes self-scrutiny — even of the highest officials. Our country is strong enough to handle the truth. And our fellow citizens expect us to pursue the truth, wherever the facts take us.”
It’s surreal to think that the same Gowdy who so forcefully defended congressional oversight and executive branch accountability when Barack Obama was president could now reverse course in such a public manner. That he would become a consigliere to Trump in order to advise him on how best to ignore subpoenas and avoid producing witnesses for hearings and depositions is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.