The Curious Case of Trey Gowdy’s Retirement

As we approach filing deadlines for the 2018 midterms, one of the big stories is that so many House Republicans are choosing to retire rather than run for re-election. Last week Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) surprised a lot of people when he added his name to the list.

Most reports about Gowdy simply lump him in with other Republicans who aren’t interested in facing a potential blue wave this November. But he represents the 4th District of South Carolina, which is deeply red (R+15), and he won re-election in 2016 with over 67 percent of the vote. There is not much doubt that he would have prevailed once again.

The reason Gowdy has given for leaving Congress is the partisanship in our politics these days. He told Politico that “There is more civility in a death penalty case than there is in some congressional hearings.” But coming from the man who spent $7 million over two years trying to pin something nefarious on Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, that excuse is pretty hard to swallow.

It is not clear whether this is related, but it is also interesting to note that Gowdy turned down a federal judgeship recently.

And in a sign of Gowdy’s desire to step back from public life, he recently turned down a golden opportunity to become a federal judge.

White House counsel Don McGahn in recent weeks broached Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, about filling a slot on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals — a newly vacated judgeship that Gowdy has eyed before, according to sources close to Gowdy. His fellow Palmetto State Republicans, Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also urged him to accept the post.

But Gowdy, who’s long complained about the increasingly toxic nature of politics, turned down the position, the sources said.

The toxic nature of politics only comes into play during the confirmation process for federal judges. Is that what Gowdy wanted to avoid?

Since announcing his retirement from Congress, there have been times when Gowdy towed the party line that Republicans are spinning about the Nunes memo. But there have also been moments like this, where he basically laid out some of the major pillars of the Mueller investigation.

Finally, Gowdy’s decision to retire seems to have been made rather suddenly. Apparently his staff was sending out fundraising emails just prior to his announcement.

This is all very strange behavior and could possibly be explained by some quirk in Gowdy’s personality. But the suddenness of the announcement came after the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Nunes memo—which Gowdy voted for. During that discussion,  Rep. Quigley questioned Nunes about whether the White House was involved in crafting the memo. He initially said no, but then was evasive when the question became more pointed. Jacob Weindling speculates that this might have been a deal-breaker for a former prosecutor.

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.

We might never know if there is more to Trey Gowdy’s decision to remove himself from public life than his apparent abhorrence partisanship. It is likely that his decision was a final attempt to be able to go “quietly into that good night” before some bombshell drops on or near him.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .