Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Trey Gowdy joined me today to discuss 2016 and the status of the panel’s work:
HH: Joined now by Chairman Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, of course, Congressman from South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter, @TGowdySC. Mr. Chairman, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, always a pleasure.
TG: I’m thrilled to be with you. You did a great job in the debate, by the way.
HH: Two down, two to go. We’ll reserve judgment against that. I’m sure you know that people can turn on you in a second. And let me ask you, and you did a great job at the Benghazi hearing. You’re campaigning for Marco Rubio. Why did you endorse him?
TG: I guess three reasons, Hugh. Number one, I mean, the issues that I care the most about, and not necessarily in order, but national security, respect for the rule of law and the faithful execution of the law, those are the three issues that I focus on the most when I am analyzing the candidates, so that’s number one. Number two, I am envious and appreciative of the way that he delivers the message of conservatism in a persuasive, aspirational way, because I do not. He’s hopeful, whereas I am not, so I’m envious and appreciative of folks who can do it that way. And thirdly, and some people would say most importantly, we really need to control the executive branch if we want to kind of fundamentally change the direction of the country, and I think that he is our best chance of winning in 2016.
HH: Now I cover your home state about 100%. In fact, I cover 100% of your district in drive time. And I love my South Carolina callers. I could do them all day long. But I have no idea. Your state is so different than it was eight years ago, much less 20 years ago, I have no idea who’s going to win South Carolina. Who does have the lead down there? And I don’t trust polls.
TG: Well, I don’t have any reason to question the polls, and I don’t have anything to refute them. I would say that Senator Rubio is a strong third, just being brutally frank with you. I think he’s a strong third, and I think that we have some more work to do. I will tell you this, the Senator and I went to Church together in Spartanburg about a week ago, and then he joined my wife and I for lunch. It is impossible to meet him and not like him. Now you may very well decide you’re not going to vote for him, but it is impossible to meet him and spend any time around him and not like him. So the more he comes to South Carolina, the more I think that third place may become second, and hopefully, Lord willing, a win.
HH: All right, now I want to talk to you about how much national security…your issue sets are mine. I might define your third twig a little bit differently than mine. I say religious liberty, that is part of the rule of law, but I saw the Supreme Court invoked a rarely-used power to add a question to a case that they’re taking up. They’ve asked that the parties to the President’s executive order on immigration brief the issue as to whether or not he is taking care that the laws be faithfully executed. Were you surprised to see that, Mr. Chairman?
TG: I was. That’s an unusual jurisprudential move. I am a little bit surprised at the speech with which this case has reached the Supreme Court. I am not at all surprised with what the 5th Circuit did. I am biased, but laying my bias aside, if prosecutorial discretion covers what the President did with his executive action, including the conference, the affirmative conference of benefits on groups, then that section of the Constitution means nothing.
HH: I agree. That’s why it’s going. I think that case is won. It’s just a question whether it’s won with five or more votes. We’ll see. Changing subjects, have you seen 13 Hours, Mr. Chairman?
TG: I have not. We have one more book author to interview, and I realize I’m old-fashioned, and a lot of people could see the movie and still do a fair job of questioning one of the book authors. But it is important to me that I have his testimony in mind as opposed to what I may have seen in a movie theater. I think of all the folks in the world who are entitled to tell their version of what happened, the eyewitnesses would be number one on that list. So I support those guys, and I like them personally. I have explained to Tonto, I promise I’m going to see the movie. But I’m going to do it after I finish the last interview.
HH: I get that, and I understand that completely. Do you believe the question has been asked and answered adequately, yet, as to whether or not assets were proximate and available that night to come to the assistance to the people under attack in Benghazi?
TG: Hugh, I will tell you this. When we issue our report, and hopefully, it is coming sooner rather than later, I think that part of our investigation is going to be the most eye-opening, the most surprising, and frankly, will dwarf the other two tranches of Benghazi in terms of what we have been able to find. So you put your finger on a couple of the issues. Number one, how were the assets positioned? If they were not positioned in such a way as to respond to Libya, Tripoli or Benghazi within the time frame, why not, particularly on the anniversary of 9/11 with, frankly, with Cairo having just happened? Why would your assets not be moving after Cairo? But there’s a third part to this, which is if the President did say do everything you can, and Secretary Panetta communicated that order to his command staff, do everything you can, both of those communicates took place before 7PM Eastern time. Why did the first wheel not take off for hours and hours and hours? That is the part that we are getting at, that I would submit to you the other committees did not, and I think you’re going to be surprised at that part of our report.
HH: We’ll look forward to that. Now let me ask a very specific question. You’re a prosecutor, I am not. So you’ll answer this in prosecutor’s fashion. Have you been asked by anyone at the Bureau or the Department of Justice not to pursue any lines of questioning for fear of compromising any investigation?
TG: No, sir, but I will tell you that, and I’m actually proud of this, they would not have to ask me. I would stay so far away from what is purely an executive branch inquiry, and I’ll prove that to you. There was a little bit of discussion about offering Bryan Pagliano immunity. He, of course, is the one who set up the server. And there was some really notable folks on the side of offering him immunity from the legislative branch’s perspective. And I was the only saying no, we should not do that. I don’t want to do anything that jeopardize an ongoing executive branch investigation. The legislative branch cannot convene a grand jury. We can’t issue search warrants. We are not the branch to conduct criminal or quasi-criminal investigations. That is the executive branch. So Mr. Comey would not have to ask me. I would run a hundred miles away from anything that would jeopardize what he’s trying to do.
HH: I’ll be right back with Trey Gowdy, out campaigning for Marco Rubio. He’s chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. You can follow him on Twitter, @TGowdySC.
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HH: It’s a short segment, Mr. Chairman, but I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about Former Secretary of State Clinton’s server. Has anyone other than Jake Sullivan taken the 5th Amendment in regards to testimony before your committee?
TG: Jake did not take the 5th.
HH: Oh, I thought he had. He had not?
TG: No, sir. The only person to invoke his 5th Amendment privilege against incrimination was Bryan Pagliano, who set up the server.
HH: Okay, thank you for clarifying that. I’m glad to know that.
TG: Yes, sir.
HH: Secondly, Robert Gates, who I’m sure you admire as much as I do, said on this program on Friday that the server was of great concern to him, and there was a high probability that the Russians had compromised it. Do you agree with both assessments?
TG: I have no reason to disagree. He’s in a league far above mine in every category, including the expertise to answer that question. It would be way above my paygrade. I have no reason to question him. Hugh, I would say this. I do find it somewhat interesting that we have gotten to the point in our political discourse where whether or not someone is indicted, or whether or not someone’s server has been accessed by our enemies is kind of a defining point for being qualified for public office. I just, I have a lower standard than are you going to be indicted or did our enemies access classified information, or potentially do so. I can’t get over square one, which is having a public record system, it is calculated to avoid producing any public records. I can’t even get over that.
HH: Well, my first issue, like yours, is national security. Do you believe on the basis of what you know, on SCIF’s that you have been in, and the briefings you’ve received, that that server was secure, or that it was very easily compromised by our foreign intelligence adversaries?
TG: The folks that have areas of expertise in this realm tell me that it was not secure, but you have to know your limitations, and I was a history major, and a mediocre law student. So it’s above my pay grade, but it’s not above the pay grade of folks who have been advising us.
HH: All right, then there is something that’s not above your pay grade, which is politics. And do you believe if the former Secretary of State is indicted, and I’m not asking you say whether or not you think she will be or won’t be. But if she is, can she continue a campaign for the presidency?
TG: She can. The last poll I saw said 54% of her fellow Democrats would not view that as a disqualifying event, which I find staggering. So I think legally, it is not a disqualifier. Of course, you’re presumed innocent, and that presumption stays with you. I would hope in our state of politics, that if a grand jury found probable cause to believe that I had done something wrong, leave her out of it. If I had done something wrong, I would like to think that I would not even put people in the position of having to decide whether or not to support me.
HH: Trey Gowdy, it’s always a great pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, look forward to talking to you again before New Hampshire and beyond, and as you hit the trails for Marco Rubio. Thank you.
End of interview.