Collateral Damage

Why Hillary Clinton’s email scandal could damage her fiercest Republican critic.

Representative Trey Gowdy
Rep. Trey Gowdy on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2014.

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

It’s painfully obvious that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal has not been good news for her political ambitions. What is more unexpected is how Clinton’s troubles are causing collateral damage for one of her chief Republican pursuers: Rep. Trey Gowdy. Gowdy sits atop the committee investigating the 2012 attacks on the Benghazi consulate in Libya that left four Americans dead—and his perch has become a politically precarious one. Instead of turning the congressman into a grassroots demigod adored by the conservative base, it’s made him almost as much a target for the right as for the left. He’d already drawn criticism from hardline proponents of the Benghazi investigations for the pacing of the committee’s search and the content of its hearings, but the new Clinton email revelations have some of Gowdy’s biggest would-be allies turning on him.

Andrew McCarthy, a policy fellow at the National Review Institute, has become Gowdy’s conservative agitator in chief. Shortly after Clinton’s email story broke, he wrote a column for National Review savaging Gowdy for failing to break the story earlier. McCarthy notes that Gowdy told Politico that his committee had emails as early as last summer showing Clinton using her private address for State Department business.

“Gowdy, by his own account, did not issue a subpoena to address a scandal he has long known about until the scandal became public,” wrote McCarthy. “That in itself is a scandal.”

He continued, ruing that Gowdy and his investigators “never made a peep” about the emails, didn’t reach out to telecommunication companies to preserve records, and didn’t subpoena any related material. Then comes the kicker:

“There is abundant reason to fear that Republicans do not want to get to the bottom of Benghazi,” he contends, charging that the truth could implicate Republican leadership in a theorized gun-running scheme between Syria and Libya.

In other words, one of the most vocal supporters of the Benghazi investigation has charged that Gowdy could be part of a cover-up that helps House Republican Leadership and Hillary Clinton. The fact that these charges ran on the website of the flagship publication of the conservative movement—and the story was then picked up by Glenn Beck’s heavily trafficked news site, The Blaze—is not good for Gowdy. (Disclosure: I formerly worked at National Review.)

The Benghazi Accountability Coalition (which McCarthy chairs) has also criticized Gowdy’s committee for its lack of alacrity and milquetoast hearings. That group includes a number of prominent far-right conservatives, including Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Rosemary Jenks of the Center for Immigration Studies; former Rep. Allen West; former congressional candidate Dan Bongino; and the conspiratorial Frank Gaffney. The group’s site republished a piece McCarthy wrote for PJ Media saying the first committee hearing was “a disappointment for those of us hoping the select committee would focus on real accountability” and criticizing it for not being “a more enlightening public session.”

The Benghazi committee’s Republican staff hasn’t been silent on these accusations.

“Gowdy has been very clear that this committee is not going to leak,” said Republican committee spokesman Jamal Ware. “As we build all the facts in a comprehensive way, in appropriate time information will be made available.”

Ware responded to another criticism in our conversation, as well. Democrats have charged that the committee has a “secretive unlimited budget.” Ware said that’s inaccurate, and that committee staff is operating under the assumption that they have $4.6 million to spend this year. Ware added that Gowdy emphasizes that the committee be as cost-effective as possible, and noted that it spent significantly less last year than was budgeted.

Regardless, this all puts Gowdy in politically dicey waters. The congressman has expressed little (if any) ambition to run for higher office. But his national name recognition and adoration in conservative circles means he could be a contender for a number of projects. Running the Benghazi committee could jeopardize that loyalty.