Gowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia

Gowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia
© Moriah Ratner

Newly minted House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyWill Congress ever hold our federal agencies accountable for contempt? Dem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting The Hill's Morning Report — Trump isolated and denounced after Putin meeting MORE (R-S.C.) said Friday he has no plans to call fired FBI Director James Comey before his panel or demand the bureau hand over memos that Comey wrote detailing his interactions with President Trump.

Gowdy’s position is a sharp departure from that of his predecessor, retiring Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzTucker Carlson: Ruling class cares more about foreigners than their own people Fox's Kennedy chides Chaffetz on child migrants: 'I’m sure these mini rapists all have bombs strapped to their chests' After FBI cleared by IG report, GOP must reform itself MORE (R-Utah), who had personally urged Comey to testify before the Oversight panel and demanded the FBI produce the memos.

The South Carolina Republicans's comments suggest he won’t use the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to vigorously investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow, or possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Any potential criminal activity related to the Russia probe, Gowdy said, falls within the jurisdiction of special counsel Robert Mueller as well as the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees — two panels on which Gowdy also serves.

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“I told Bob Mueller Tuesday that I would never do anything wittingly or unwittingly that veered over into his lane,” Gowdy said in an interview with a handful of reporters in the Oversight panel’s cavernous hearing room. “His lane is broad and is undetermined at this point.”

The Comey memos describe at least one Oval Office conversation where Trump directed Comey, then the FBI director, to drop his investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had lied about conversations he had with top Russian officials.

The memos “are in the jurisdiction of Bob Mueller, first and foremost. Secondarily Judiciary [Committee], because it has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice and the FBI,” Gowdy explained.

“To the extent that any of those memos are classified, that would be HPSCI," he added, referring to the House Intelligence Committee.

There is at least one area of the overarching Russia probe that Gowdy said does fall within Oversight’s jurisdiction: concerns about the security-clearance process.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, wrote a letter to White House officials this week raising concerns about whether Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had deliberately withheld or lied about information in their security clearance application.

But again, Gowdy, who endorsed Trump for president in May 2016, clarified that his committee would not probe specific allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

“Allegations of criminal or quasi-criminal activity is squarely within Mueller’s jurisdiction. The process by which security clearances are granted needs to be tightened amended changed, I’m all for it,” said Gowdy, 52, a former federal prosecutor in South Carolina.

“We don’t investigate crime. That’s been my position for the seven years that I’ve been here” on the committee.

Gowdy also didn’t appear particularly eager for his panel to continue investigating Trump’s possible violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause, which bars presidents from accepting payments from foreign governments.

Democrats have drawn attention to Trump’s hotels, golf courses and other business interests around the world in questioning potential conflicts of interest for the president.

The Oversight panel will continue to monitor the issue, but Gowdy warned that much of it is uncharted territory and probably will be settled in the courts.

“It’s not like you have reams and reams of case law on the emoluments clause,” the chairman said.

Gowdy’s ascension to Oversight chairman reunites him with his old sparring partner, Cummings, who was also the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which Gowdy helmed. 

Gowdy had been the hard-charging chairman of the special panel that probed the deadly 2012 terror attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, as well as then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE’s response to the attack.

Despite their history, Gowdy said he has been working to keep Cummings in the loop as he begins his tenure leading Oversight. He’s called Cummings a dozen times this week as the Maryland Democrat recovers from heart surgery.

Next week, the Oversight panel will hold a hearing on criminal justice reform, an issue Cummings has been working on for decades. A hearing on the U.S. Census, also within the purview of Gowdy's panel, could be held later this year.

“There will be no fast, sudden moves until he comes back,” Gowdy said.