You may know of Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy because of his famed bad haircut.
Or because he led the GOP Benghazi fever which gripped Congress for over two years—costing taxpayers $7+ million over the course of eight investigations—all of which found no wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton. The man most well-known for leading a partisan witch hunt in order to discredit a future presidential candidate says that he is quitting Congress because “there is more civility in a death penalty case than there is in some Congressional hearings.”
Gowdy even admitted on Fox News in 2016 that the military could not have arrived in Benghazi in time to save the four Americans who died that night, despite his investigation asserting that Hillary Clinton could have prevented the tragedy. Benghazi was the picture of partisan hackery, yet Gowdy is citing his distaste with hyper-partisanship as his reason for leaving Washington? Sorry, that just doesn't pass the sniff test.
When politicians retire, they almost always become lobbyists, so that is very likely the main driver behind Gowdy's retirement. The former prosecutor (whose reputation was held in high regard before becoming a politician) was offered a federal judgeship that had interested him before, yet Gowdy turned it down, which I'm thinking must mean that he has a pretty good offer on K Street.
But there's another nagging feeling that I just can't get out of my head—and that's how sudden this move was. Not only did this swift decision take all of Washington D.C. by surprise, but seemingly Gowdy's own staff as well. They were still sending out fundraising e-mails the day he announced his retirement, with lines like “I need your help. I do not like having to ask folks for their hard earned money. But unfortunately, that's the only way I can run a campaign to continue my fight.”
Occam's Razor is a theory that I adhere to religiously when thinking about politics. Politicians of all stripes lie all the time and it's very easy to devise a conspiracy theory when you don't have all the answers, so the simplest explanation is almost always the right answer. It's a well-known fact that in America, being a politician is actually the precursor to your real endgame: becoming a lobbyist. Congress is like the college of corporate oligarchy. Odds are very strong that this is all one big grift. However, the suddenness of Gowdy's retirement is bizarre, so I'm going to indulge my conspiratorial mind for a second. This paragraph in the Politico report jumped out at me:
Gowdy has found himself butting heads in recent months with Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and other pro-Trump Republicans who have hinted at corruption at the FBI. He's expressed concerns about anti-Trump texts by some FBI officials, and he has said on TV that Congress has a duty to oversee the agency. But behind the scenes he's had to rein in some of his conservative colleagues who want to undercut the entirety of the Justice Department, which he views as essential to American life.
So this report, which is based off Gowdy and “sources close to Gowdy,” says that he is unnerved by his colleagues undercutting the Justice Department—yet he voted to release the infamous memo written by a member of Trump's transition team which smears the FBI and Justice Department as politically biased against Republicans. Not to mention, the Justice Department and the FBI oppose the release of this memo without being able to review it, yet Gowdy's vote took that power away from them. His actions in Congress simply do not match up with the picture painted of him in this report from a publication known for being very willing to publish any politician's talking points.
So let's assume that Occam's Razor is wrong and my conspiratorial mind is right that something's up: what could have caused such a sudden retirement? I have one idea. This week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was grilled on whether he coordinated with the White House when drafting this memo (which is a serious no-no), and he evaded the questions entirely.
If the former prosecutor was a party to something illegal, Gowdy would know. My conspiracy theory leads me to wonder if he wasn’t entirely aware of the gigantic clusterfuck he stapled himself to on the House Intelligence Committee—and Monday’s hearing revealed to him that Devin Nunes is legally radioactive—so he decided on Wednesday that it is in his best interest to sprint as far away from the Chairman as possible.
It’s hard to come up with a simple rationale behind Gowdy’s sudden retirement other than these two explanations. He wasn’t in danger for his next election. He won his last one with 67% of the vote, more than doubling his opponent’s vote total. The “I’m sick of hyper-partisanship” explanation doesn’t hold any weight considering he voted down partisan lines last week to release a partisan memo, and that’s before you get to his reputation as a partisan hack. The “I’m sick of fighting my colleagues in order to protect the DOJ” explanation rings hollow too given that he voted to remove power from the DOJ and put it in Trump’s hands. His own staff seemed to not know he was leaving considering they were still sending fundraising e-mails out just prior to him announcing his retirement. It’s all just so weird. Again, a plum lobbying job quickly opening up explains all of this and is far and away the most likely explanation, but if Gowdy really is just going home to sit on his couch, one can’t help but wonder what the real explanation is.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.