U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy says he won’t seek re-election

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Illustration by Kate Salley Palmer

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) announced last week that he will retire from Congress at the end of the current term and leave politics to work in the justice system.

“I will not be filing for re-election to Congress or seeking any other political or elected office; instead I will be returning to the justice system,” Gowdy said in a statement.

“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” he added. “As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding.”

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, was elected in 2010 to serve South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg counties. He rose to prominence during the Obama administration as chairman of a special House committee investigating the 2012 terrorists attacks which left four Americans dead at a State Department compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The committee’s investigation led to the discovery that Hillary Clinton had used a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The discovery prompted an FBI investigation, which concluded that Clinton had been careless but that her actions didn’t warrant any criminal charges.

More recently, Gowdy played a leading role in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including interactions between Moscow and President Donald Trump’s campaign. He also took charge of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah retired from Congress in January 2017.

The announcement of Gowdy’s retirement comes just weeks after the congressman resigned his post on the House Ethics Committee to mitigate what he cited as a “challenging workload.”

Gowdy is the 36th Republican and 10th committee chairman to announce his retirement from the House rather than seek re-election in November. He now plans to open a law firm in the Upstate, according to spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez.

“Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to the people of South Carolina for the privilege of representing them in the House of Representatives. The Upstate of South Carolina has an incredible depth and breadth of assets including numerous women and men capable of representing us,” said Gowdy. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity to serve in the people’s House and-prior to Congress-to advocate on behalf of justice in our court systems.”

News of Gowdy’s departure garnered strong reactions from both sides of the political aisle.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for instance, quickly issued a statement after the announcement to voice discontent with how the South Carolina congressman had handled the investigation of the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

“Rep. Gowdy’s tenure in Congress made a mockery of congressional oversight and his eagerness to use the deaths of brave Americans overseas in service of his partisan, political goals is a dark and shameful chapter in the history of the House of Representatives,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

However, Republican members of Congress all praised Gowdy.

In a statement released after Gowdy’s announcement, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from North Charleston, thanked his fellow South Carolina congressman for his service and friendship over the years. The two lawmakers recently co-authored a biographical book, titled “Indivisible: Overcoming Our Differences, One Friendship at a Time.” It will be released in April.

“I want to thank Trey not just for his service to the Upstate, or his love for South Carolina, or his commitment to justice and the truth, but for being the honest, good hearted man I know he is and will continue to be. He has always put the people of Greenville-Spartanburg first, despite his Congressional responsibilities grabbing so many national headlines,” Scott said in a statement.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former South Carolina governor, took to Twitter shortly after Gowdy’s announcement to praise her fellow Republican, saying the reason why he was “so amazing at his job” was because “he disliked politics so much.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also released a statement, describing Gowdy’s services as exemplary: “I have witnessed first hand Representative Gowdy’s dedication and commitment to justice from the courtroom to Congress. His leadership and service on behalf of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Fourth Congressional District, South Carolina, and America has been exemplary, and deserves the appreciation of all,” McMaster said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee praised Gowdy, saying he would be “sorely missed.” The committee also expressed confidence that South Carolina’s 4th District would “stay solidly in Republican control.”

At least four Democrats have already announced bids for Gowdy’s congressional seat, including J.T. Davis of Simpsonville, a small business owner and U.S. Army veteran; Chris Chastain of Pelzer, a certified electrician; Lee Turner of Greenville, a tax professional; and Will Morin of Simpsonville, an emergency medical technician.

Political analysts, however, don’t expect Gowdy’s seat to fall out of Republican control when the midterm election rolls around in November, as the district’s voters haven’t elected a Democrat to the House in more than two decades. Republicans who have announced plans to run for the seat include Spartanburg GOP Chairman Josh Kimbrell, state Rep. Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville, and state Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, who lost to Gowdy in a primary runoff for Congress in 2010, also suggested last week on social media that he might run for the seat: “Before Trump, Tea Party & Birthers, I served where Trey Gowdy is now vacating,” he tweeted. “‘Will you run again — as a Republican?’ I’m asked. Depends on whether my TED Talk here is what Rs believe. Or are these the words of a new party to be born in SC-4 or elsewhere?”

See Gowdy’s full statement below:

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