Gowdy poised to replace Chaffetz as Oversight chief

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is expected to become the next chairman of the House Oversight Committee, replacing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in the high-profile post when he leaves Congress late next month, according to multiple senior House Republicans.

Gowdy, who led the Republican investigation into the Benghazi terror attacks, has started buttonholing members of the House Steering Committee in recent days to build support. Five members of that panel, which decides committee assignments, told POLITICO that Gowdy would easily win a race for the high-profile position.

If he does clinch the chairmanship, Gowdy would oversee a sensitive investigation into whether President Donald Trump pressured the FBI to drop a federal investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, previously was chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

“Trey is more than qualified to be the next chairman of Oversight,” said Steering Committee member Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who intends to nominate Gowdy for the post. “He has a lot of support from our conference, and given the responsibilities that come with the position, and his past pedigree [as a prosecutor], he’s perfect for the job.”

A spokeswoman for Gowdy would not confirm his bid for the gavel.

“Rep. Gowdy is talking to members in the conference about the qualities they believe are most important for the next chairman to possess,” she said in a statement.

Gowdy’s decision to run comes as Chaffetz had notified colleagues that he will leave Congress at the end of June to start a career in television.

Upon learning of Chaffetz’s departure several weeks ago, GOP leaders tried to recruit Gowdy, who initially rebuffed their pleas. Gowdy has often mused to colleagues about how he wants to retire and return to South Carolina to spend more time with family.

When his name first started circulating for the job, many Republicans believed he would not take it. But Gowdy change his mind, a situation one Steering panel member likened to when Paul Ryan reluctantly agreed to become speaker.

Other lawmakers may decide to run against Gowdy. Oversight is stocked with House Freedom Caucus conservatives who want one of their ringleaders, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), to take the position. Jordan, like Gowdy, is also known for his fierce interrogations of Obama administration officials and is more senior than Gowdy. He does not, however, have as many allies on the Steering Committee, which is comprised mainly of loyalists to House leaders.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) was considering a bid for the post but told POLITICO he would not run if Gowdy does.

As head of Oversight, Gowdy would be in the cross hairs of one of the most high-stakes political scandals in recent history.

The House Intelligence Committee, a panel on which Gowdy also sits, is currently investigating whether Russia meddled in the U.S. election or colluded with the Trump campaign. Chaffetz this week launched an inquiry into Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey and subsequent reports that the president urged Comey to end the investigation of Flynn.

Gowdy would therefore inherit an investigation that Chaffetz started, which would put him in a politically precarious position. Much of the Republican base believes the Russia controversy is overblown, so Gowdy could come under pressure to clear the president.

Should he find facts that lead him to the opposite conclusion, his career as a Republican lawmaker could be in jeopardy if the base turns on him.

Gowdy experienced some of that type of blowback during the Benghazi investigation, when conservatives accused him of letting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton off easy.

Gowdy said on Fox News Tuesday that he wants to see the memos Comey allegedly kept on Trump’s comments to him about the investigation.

"I want to see the memo [and] I want to talk to Director Comey to determine how contemporaneous his recording of the conversation was," Gowdy said. “What did Director Comey hear? How did he take it? … That can only be done by looking at the memo and talking to Director Comey."

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