10 Questions for Trey Gowdy

On October 10 — the same day that the Southern District of New York indicted two associates of Rudy Giuliani for campaign finance violations after they attempted to board a flight out of the country with one-way tickets, and Giuliani was revealed to be a subject in the ongoing investigation – Donald Trump’s legal team dealing with the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry announced the addition of a new lawyer intended to venture forth on various television shows as a Trump defender. Enter former Representative Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina, who had retired after the Republicans lost their majority in the 2018 midterm elections, and whose previous accomplishment was to preside over the Select Committee on Benghazi, spending more than $7 million to produce an 800-page report in 2016 that concluded there was “no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.” Eight previous official investigations had already reached the same conclusion. While Gowdy discovered no evidence to substantiate the conspiracy theories that had inspired the creation of his committee, he acted as a partisan player tarnishing the Obama administration and the Democratic presidential candidate through a stream of innuendo, leaks of false information, character assassination, and in one case altering a document to make it appear that former Secretary of State Clinton was guilty of a breach of national security, a forgery that was publicly exposed and refuted by the CIA.

“Trey’s command of the law is well known, and his service on Capitol Hill will be a great asset as a member of our team,” Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s personal lawyers, said in a prepared statement in coordination with the White House. (Sekulow is the chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson and affiliated with his Regent University School of Law.)

But Gowdy’s hiring went badly from the start. The day after Gowdy’s appointment to the Trump team was announced, Trump said that Gowdy would not join until January 2020 because of rules governing lobbying by former members of the Congress. His naming was already a matter of friction with Trump’s other personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Victoria Toensing, a long-time Giuliani associate and co-counsel with her husband Joe DiGenova, who had employed Lev Parnas, the indicted Ukrainian-American dirt digger as a translator, took umbrage on behalf of the Giuliani team. She told Yahoo News, “Trey Gowdy doesn’t know shit. Are you kidding? Trey is a joke among us.” She later said that part was supposed to be off the record, thereby confirming the statement.

Then, suddenly, Gowdy was out. Gowdy’s appointment had been devised by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina and close colleague of Gowdy’s. In Gowdy’s appearances as a talking head on Fox News, he had been a public mouthpiece for his friend. Mulvaney’s use of the impeachment crisis to bring Gowdy on board would have augmented his own internal influence within the chaotic and fractious White House. He also apparently thought to protect a flank by leaning on Jared Kushner, Trump’s ubiquitous son-in-law, constantly drawn to expanding his portfolio into matters over which he has little knowledge or capability, as part of the recruitment effort.

But Mulvaney’s Gowdy gambit offended more than Giuliani’s operation. Patrick Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, opposed his hiring as a Mulvaney tactic to reduce his control over the response to impeachment inquiry. The lobbying restriction on Gowdy became an obvious basis to eliminate him at once. So, within 24 hours of the formal announcement of Gowdy’s new role, it abruptly and unceremoniously ended.

It turns out that Mulvaney, Gowdy’s sponsor, may be deeply involved in the Giuliani-Ukraine conspiracy, according to the testimony of Fiona Hill, the former section chief for Russia and Eastern Europe on the National Security Council (NSC). Before the three House committees on Monday, Hill stated that John Bolton, then the national security adviser, urged her to inform the NSC legal counsel that Giuliani, whom he described as “a hand grenade,” was in league with both Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor serving as ambassador to the European Union, and Mulvaney in a shadow political operation in Ukraine on behalf of Trump. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill.

In the meantime, Gowdy has lost his lucrative contract consulting for Fox News, which had terminated him. Though Gowdy is a bit player in the impeachment drama, his association with Trump, Mulvaney and others likely exposed him to information that may have bearing on the impeachment inquiry.

A few pertinent questions remain for Gowdy.

What did Trey Gowdy know and when did he know it? More specifically ….

1. What was the financial arrangement by which you were to be paid to defend Donald Trump? Were you to be paid by Jay Sekulow through his non-profit front group? Any other source? The Republican National Committee? Or did you tell Trump this would be a pro bono service?

2. In your communications with Trump in which you accepted the position of his counsel did he discuss any future compensation or thing of value? Did he or you discuss any federal appointment in any way including a federal judgeship? Was it implied? If you were to assume the position in January, would you state publicly that you would never accept any federal appointment in the future from Trump?

3. In your interview for your new job did Trump ask or require you to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement as he has had others do? Have you signed an NDA?

4. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who served with you on the Benghazi committee, has been implicated in the Ukraine operation. Did you have any discussions with him about your potential position as Trump’s counsel on impeachment? What did he tell you about his role or Trump’s, or anyone else’s, or about Trump’s effort to force Ukraine to intervene in the US presidential election against Joe Biden?

5. What did Trump tell you about his efforts to force Ukraine to intervene in the US presidential election of 2020? About the involvement of anyone else? Mulvaney? Pompeo? Giuliani?

6. Did you ask Trump in your meeting if the whistleblower’s complaint is true? If not, why not?

7. Did you hold any discussions with Devin Nunes, his staff or other House Republicans about your new position as Trump’s counsel? Did they suggest conspiracy theories they wished you to advance?

8. Did you have any communications with Senator Lindsey Graham or other members of the Senate about any of the underlying matters related to the impeachment proceedings concerning Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, or on Senator Graham’s statements challenging the credibility of the whistleblower, or in connection with your decision to join Trump’s team?

9. What did Mick Mulvaney tell you about his involvement in what John Bolton has called his “drug deal” with Giuliani? How do you feel about Mulvaney in light of this information? Would you have accepted the position as Trump’s attorney if you had known of Mulvaney’s involvement? Or did you know?

10. Are you now seeking the restoration of your consulting contract with Fox News? 

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About the Author(s)

Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal, the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, is the author of All the Powers of Earth (Simon & Schuster 2019), the third volume of his five volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln.