Rep. Trey Gowdy, a major congressional player in investigations of Hillary Clinton and the 2016 Trump campaign, will leave the House at the end of this year.
The South Carolina Republican will leave behind a committee chairmanship he only recently obtained as well as a controversial legacy and a reliably GOP seat.
It’s not clear what new career opportunities lie ahead of him.
Gowdy, from conservative Spartanburg, has for years made it no secret he chafed under Washington’s political mores and social codes. He longed for the rules and practices of the legal world where he made his career for decades, most recently as solicitor for the state’s seventh judicial circuit.
On Wednesday, Gowdy, 53, said he looked forward to returning to the law and to South Carolina.
“I will not be filing for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political or elected office; instead I will be returning to the justice system,” Gowdy said in a statement. “Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system.”
Gowdy since last summer has been chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He also serves on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
He became a political household name when he chaired the now-disbanded committee to investigate the deadly September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. There, he helped uncover Clinton’s private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State.
As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Gowdy has also become a regular fixture on Fox News, commenting on the panel’s probe of whether there was Russian interference in the 2016 election and if the Trump campaign colluded.
Though Gowdy, a former prosecutor, didn’t say what “justice system” job he might pursue, an opening for a senior judge on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over South Carolina, opened up just 24 hours earlier
In the past, Gowdy has lamented his confirmation proceedings could be brutal, if not untenable, given the political baggage he carries from his days leading the Benghazi committee.
In 2016, he said he couldn’t see a future where he could ever be confirmed. Democrats still call the Benghazi investigation a “political witch hunt” and blame Gowdy for efforts to demonize Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president.
But in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday evening, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Gowdy’s best friend in Congress, said the congressman did not want to be nominated for a judgeship, despite current and future openings for which he might be qualified.
Scott has personally floated Gowdy’s name for consideration numerous times over the years for federal bench appointments. The senator told reporters that he and South Carolina’s other GOP senator, Lindsey Graham, agreed that Gowdy would be a good choice to fill upcoming judicial vacancies and the White House seemed “receptive.”
However, Scott said he was “sure that Gowdy does not want to be nominated,” and therefore, “I am not going to nominate him for something he does not want.”
In late 2016, Scott and Gowdy, who entered the House together in 2011, were considering running for governor and lieutenant governor on a joint ticket in 2018. Scott said Wednesday he doubted Gowdy would ever run for another political position, saying he looked forward to living with his family again in Spartanburg full time. The two men are now poised to release a book together later this year about their friendship and how it transcends racial lines.
Gowdy’s congressional seat is not expected to be a GOP loss, even in a political environment where House Republican retirements are being announced in record numbers and Democrats are giddy over their prospects of flipping control of the chamber. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to control the chamber for the first time since 2011.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a short statement decrying Gowdy’s tenure as one that “made a mockery of Congressional oversight.”
“His eagerness to use the deaths of brave Americans overseas in service of his partisan, political goals is a dark and shameful chapter in the history of the House of Representatives,” said Patrick Burgwinkle DCCC deputy communications director. He made no mention of plans to compete for the seat.
National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said in a statement the party fundraising arm was “confident this seat will stay solidly in Republican control in November.”
Those who might seek to replace Gowdy include Spartanburg County Republican Party Chairman Joshua Kimbrell, and Greenville Republicans Dan Hamilton, a state representative, and William Timmons, a state senator.
On Capitol Hill, there will be a race to replace Gowdy as the top Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Gowdy was all but handpicked by House GOP leaders last summer to succeed Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who retired and became a Fox News contributor.
Gowdy was less senior on the committee than others, but leaders were fearful the gavel would go to Rep. Jim Jordan, the next in line for the chairmanship. The Ohio Republican is a conservative firebrand, House Freedom Caucus founder and not regarded as a reliable team player. So leadership reached lower down in the committee membership ranks to all but anoint Gowdy as a consensus pick.
Jordan is likely to seek the senior position on the panel in the next session of Congress. There is no one as popular as Gowdy currently on the committee who leaders could endorse as an alternative.
Lawmakers interested in the posting have until after the November elections to gather support for their bids, unless Gowdy decides to leave Congress earlier. His spokeswoman, Amanda Gonzalez, told McClatchy Gowdy expected to remain in office til the last vote of the current legislative session.
Avery Wilks of The State contributed to this report.