Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who led the House committee on Benghazi with its long hearings and who now chairs the committee investigating Russian election interference, with its long hearings, said Sunday that public hearings amount to a “freak show,” which is why he doesn’t “do many of them.”
The assertion raised some eyebrows among those who have observed a succession of public hearings chaired by Gowdy.
Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who in January announced plans to retire, made the comments in a Sunday interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that centered on the recent indictments of 12 Russians accused of hacking the Democrats during the 2016 presidential election. He also revealed that he would not support efforts by House Republicans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
The interview came days after Gowdy and FBI special agent Peter Strzok engaged in a testy exchange — at points devolving into chaos and name-calling — over Strzok’s text messages about then-candidate Donald Trump. In August 2016, Strzok texted Lisa Page, a colleague with whom he was having an affair, “We’ll stop it,” which referred to Trump’s candidacy for the presidency, he acknowledged during the joint House Oversight and Judiciary committees hearing Thursday.
Gowdy stated during the CBS interview that he did not believe that Strzok, whom he described as biased against Trump, represented the views of thousands of FBI agents. CBS’s Margaret Brennan responded by asking Gowdy whether Trump, who has pointed to Strzok when calling the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” seemed to erroneously conflate Strzok with the “entire intelligence organization.”
“There is some concern that that is corrosive to our democracy,” she said. “Do you fear that your hearing is being used in that way?”
“Well, our private hearing was much more constructive than the public hearing,” Gowdy responded. “I mean, public hearings are a circus, Margaret. I mean, that’s why I don’t like to do them. I don’t do many of them. I mean, it’s a freak show. I mean the private interviews are much more constructive.”
It’s not the first time Gowdy has described public hearings over highly politicized investigations in such a manner.
Gowdy emerged as a star in Republican circles while leading the Benghazi committee, which grilled Hillary Clinton for 11 hours in 2015.
Gowdy admitted afterward that lawmakers didn’t appear to glean much from her testimony, saying, “I don’t know if she testified that much differently than she has previous times she testified.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gowdy blamed the anticlimactic nature of the hearing on the fact that it was ineffective to grill the former secretary of state in public rather than in private.
“This notion that the public hearings are somehow conducive with learning lots of new things — there’s a reason we don’t have public hearings, and you saw that reason,” he said.
In a statement Monday morning, a spokeswoman for Gowdy and the House Oversight Committee, Amanda Gonzalez Thompson, noted that the Benghazi committee interviewed more than 100 witnesses over the course of its investigation, though only three public hearings were held. “This means only 3 percent of witness testimony was taken public,” she said.