The Republican Steering Committee on Thursday backed Rep. Trey Gowdy to become the next chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The move — if confirmed by the full Republican Conference — would put the South Carolina Republican at the helm of a contentious probe into President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, is known for chairing the House Benghazi investigation and has also been a leading member of the Intelligence Committee’s probe of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.
Gowdy would replace outgoing Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who will resign at the end of June. Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) had also put his name in for consideration to replace Chaffetz.
House GOP leaders encouraged Gowdy to run upon learning of Chaffetz’s looming departure. He is a close ally of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on a panel composed of unpredictable Freedom Caucus conservatives with rocky relationships with leadership.
"Trey Gowdy possesses the experience and deep commitment to transparency and accountability necessary to be the House’s next Oversight chairman," Ryan said in a statement. "He has proven that he will always look out for taxpayers and seek answers from the bureaucracy."
Gowdy has also clashed with Trump, although he later served on Trump’s transition team. Trump once retweeted someone calling Rep. Trey Gowdy a “Benghazi loser” after Gowdy backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the GOP presidential primary. Trump also accused Gowdy of being soft on Hillary Clinton over her use of an unauthorized email server.
It is unclear in wha direction Gowdy will take his panel‘s part of the Trump-Comey investigation, which has quickly become one of the most contentious political scandals in modern American history. While the House and Senate intelligence committees have jurisdiction over Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, questions of obstruction and how Trump might have tried to influence the probe fall more into Oversight’s purview, at least in the House.
Democrats worry that Gowdy will use the gavel to protect the White House or focus the investigation solely on leaks to the media that make Trump look bad. Democrats’ distrust of Gowdy stretches back to his work on the Benghazi probe, which they believe was a witch hunt against Hillary Clinton.
Republicans praise Gowdy as a top-notch independent investigator, and at least one White House aide has worried that he could become a thorn in Trump’s side.
POLITICO reported that Gowdy has made a conscious effort to shield himself from an appearance of being too closely tied to the White House: When the Trump-supporting Great America PAC donated $5,000 into Gowdy’s campaign account in March, he returned the donation.