BY JOE CONASON
On the same day the White House plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis by refusing to provide witnesses or documents to House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry, word leaked of a new member on the Trump legal defense team. Engaged to serve as “outside counsel” is former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, best known for his endless pursuit of the Benghazi investigation when he chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
What could be the purpose of an “outside counsel” for this president who defies the law at every step? Another description might be “TV lawyer.” Fox News has employed Gowdy ever since he decided to retire from Congress – and Trump, who spends most of his time watching the regime channel, must have watched him rehearse the White House talking points there. [That Gowdy may be the only person in America with odder-looking hair than Trump could also be a factor.]
During his congressional career, Gowdy usually postured himself as a rigidly upright and tough-minded former prosecutor who followed the law and the facts regardless of his own partisan preferences, et cetera. While chairing the Benghazi probe, he often complained bitterly about the recalcitrance of the Obama Administration, particularly then-Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he accused of unlawfully denying documents and testimony to his committee. He’d fire off those angry charges even after receiving hundreds of thousands of pages and hearing witnesses for dozens of hours.
Gowdy liked to deliver speeches denouncing these supposed violations of constitutional propriety, styling himself as the defender of congressional prerogative against the depredations of dictatorial then-President Obama. He didn’t disguise his irritation when he felt the executive branch was stonewalling.
“The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress, no matter whether you’re the party in power or not in power, is wrong. Respect for the rule of law must mean something, irrespective of the vicissitudes of political cycles.” So said Gowdy once upon a time, before Trump entered the Oval Office and displayed his contempt for the rule of law.
As a keen investigator of wrongdoing in high places – even though he never found any – Gowdy did not hesitate to draw a negative inference from the obstructive behavior of his targets.
He said: “The longer you remain silent, the longer you don’t turn over documents, a presumption begins to build that you’re withholding something. That’s human nature. That may not be a legal presumption, but that’s a common sense presumption.” Of course, he was talking about Clinton and Obama, not Trump, to whom he applies no such righteous bromides.
No doubt the Beltway press corps will now try to portray Gowdy as favorably as possible – and it’s true that he is nowhere nearly as nutty as Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current “outside counsel.” But he always knew that, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy indiscreetly boasted, the Benghazi clown show was designed to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, and he behaved accordingly. He set up the means to smear her and her advisers, most notably Sidney Blumenthal – whose deposition in executive session still has never been released [because it would make Gowdy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and all the other Republicans present look like idiots].
At one point, Gowdy’s committee even released an email that had been altered to appear as if Clinton had disclosed the identity of a “top secret” CIA source from Libya. He waxed indignant over the former secretary of state’s alleged breach of security. In fact, as reporters later had to note in correcting the record, that former Libyan intelligence official’s identity was no secret at all. The whole story was, to coin a phrase, “fake news.”
For an operation that is now devoted to defying the law and fabricating smears, Trey Gowdy is a worthy new hire. Perhaps, from now on, he will spare us the declamations about the Constitution, to which he once swore an oath that his new client defiles every day.