WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – The congressman of a special select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack is raising critical questions about the country’s presence in a dangerous and deadly region of the world.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said he wants to question former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton why U.S. officials were still in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
“Why were we still in Benghazi? The British ambassador was almost assassinated. Our facility was attacked twice. There were multiple episodes of violence. We were the last flag flying in Benghazi and I would like to know why,” Gowdy told Fox News.
Clinton addressed the issue in a House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing in January 2013 when questioned by Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.
“Our team, led by security professionals, but also including intelligence professionals and others, did not recommend, based on those incidents, abandoning Benghazi, in part, because over the last years we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Yemen and elsewhere,” Clinton stated.
However, this time around, Gowdy pledged that he won’t be satisfied with anyone else’s work concerning the investigation and the interview process with witnesses.
“I don’t have access to intel. I don’t have access to sources and methods,” Gowdy told Fox News. “I have never interviewed Susan Rice about anything. I have never an opportunity to ask the secretary of state questions about the lead-up to Benghazi and why we were still there. One of the problems with the existing committee structure is they are stovepipe — they are fragmented. We can’t cross jurisdictional boundaries, which is why I asked for a select committee over a year ago, so that we can tear the barriers down and we can have access to all the information.”
Gowdy has pledged to seek out “every single solitary relevant material document” surrounded to the deadly attacks, in addition to witnesses.
Multiple independent and bipartisan investigations have faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the mission and the military’s lack of assets in the region. Yet the inquiries have failed to quiet the much-publicized aftermath, with Republicans vehemently insisting that the administration sought to downplay a terror attack just weeks before the presidential election.
Two years later, Benghazi resonates with Republicans, who demand accountability from President Barack Obama, Clinton and other administration officials. It remains a rallying cry with conservatives whose votes are crucial to the GOP in November’s historically low-turnout midterm elections.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and whip Steny Hoyer sent Boehner a letter accusing House Republicans of “extreme and counter-productive partisanship” in the investigation. They say “a fundamentally different approach” is needed for a select committee, including equal representation on the committee.
“There will be people critical of the process and the results no matter what,” Gowdy said in an interview. “That’s not the jury. That is not the audience. The jury is reasonable-minded, open-minded people who say, ‘Show me a fair process, let me draw my conclusions and let’s finally, in the words of the speaker, get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi.'”
Gowdy, 49, is a hard-charging conservative who has challenged the administration on the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation and the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status. He won wide acclaim from the right for his impassioned, five-minute House floor speech last month on ensuring that the president enforces the nation’s laws.
“The House of Representatives does not exist to pass suggestions. We do not exist to pass ideas,” Gowdy said to applause and cheers. “We make law.”
A website promoting Trey Gowdy for president in 2016 spotlights the speech as well as a video of Gowdy cartwheeling, boogying and “Dancing with the Spartanburg Stars,” moves he made before his legislative career to raise money for breast cancer research.
To the presidential talk, Gowdy jokingly asked, “What country?” and said he has no interest in higher office, preferring the courtroom to politics.
“I would love to be back in a system where there are rules and there is a referee and we work for a blindfolded woman with a set of scales,” Gowdy said.
A fellow South Carolina Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, called Gowdy “well-respected” and “tenacious.”
Gowdy spent six years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greenville, South Carolina, handling murder, drug and robbery cases. He tried cases that previously ended in a hung jury and, in describing his approach, suggested the traits he’ll likely employ in getting many Americans to reconsider the events of Benghazi.
“I try to think like a juror, like someone who’s been called to observe a trial or serve on a jury,” Gowdy said. “What do I want to know and who do I want to hear from? My mind works chronologically and so I necessarily assume that other people’s do, too. It’s not like the ‘Odyssey,’ where your start in the middle and then go backward and forward.”
He and his wife, Terri, have a son, Watson, and a daughter, Abigail. They have three dogs — Judge, Jury and Bailiff.
After years as a prosecutor and serving as solicitor for Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, Gowdy challenged Republican Rep. Bob Inglis in the 2010 primary, targeting the pragmatic incumbent for his work in steering projects to the northwest district as a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Gowdy forced a runoff, won handily and then rode the 2010 tea party wave into the House.
Boehner’s selection of Gowdy leaves Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to continue to pursue his Benghazi probe, although the move eclipses the relentless California Republican. Issa was a frequent target of fact-checkers for hisBenghazi claims, and last week his star witness’ testimony drew an unusual rebuke from another House Republican chairman.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was elected to the House with Gowdy, said his former colleague is “looking for the truth. And he will either find it or say he didn’t.”
Scott, who dines with Gowdy each week, said the congressman would make a “great federal judge.”
“That’s my goal for him,” Scott said. “Get him out of here as soon as possible.”
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