As far as Trey Gowdy is concerned, the Benghazi Committee was a success.
The S.C. Republican spent the better part of an hour Tuesday trying to convince the public that his probe into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, was not about politically damaging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
“You don’t see that T-shirt on me, and you don’t see that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles,” Gowdy said when asked about the slogan “Hillary lied, people died.”
“My job is to report facts,” Gowdy said as the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which he chaired, released its 800-page final report.
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The Spartanburg Republican was careful not to attack Clinton or to assign blame. “You can draw whatever conclusions you want.”
Challenged on whether the $7 million investigation had uncovered any new information about the attacks missed by seven previous inquiries, Gowdy said, “Read this report.”
“You can read this report ... in less time than our fellow Americans were under attack in Benghazi.”
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 often was hampered by his own party, as when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., openly suggested last year that the committee had been created to sink Clinton’s poll numbers.
“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, S.C. Democratic Party policy and communications director, said in a statement Tuesday.
While some Republicans are likely to be disappointed that the committee’s final report did not turn up a bombshell, it’s unlikely to hurt 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 Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard, 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.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, praised the report.
“From the beginning, Trey Gowdy promised a Benghazi investigation that looked at the facts and only the facts,” Scott tweeted.
Leading the committee made Gowdy a national name.
Nicknamed “the bulldog” by conservative media, the former 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.
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.
Polls show that many 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 committee’s report does not dwell on Clinton, focusing mainly on the chronology of events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks and the response. It extends responsibility for the four Americans killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, beyond Clinton’s State Department to the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the FBI.
S.C. Republican Party chairman Matt Moore went beyond Gowdy, saying in an email that the committee’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.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a fellow S.C. Republican, 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.