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Trey Gowdy, Once Championed by the Right, Now a Pariah for FBI Defense

Conservative media turns on House Benghazi investigation chairman

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., earned the ire of conservatives this week after he defended the FBI’s use of an informant in the investigation into possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., earned the ire of conservatives this week after he defended the FBI’s use of an informant in the investigation into possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

From former White House officials to longtime radio hosts, conservative media figureheads turned on a Republican lawmaker who won them over for his scathing interrogation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the House’s Benghazi investigation in 2015.

Less than three years later, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina has become the latest target for many of today’s pre-eminent conservative spokespeople after he defended the FBI on television shows this week for accepting information from someone within President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 about possible ties to Russia.

“Frankly, I’ve always liked Trey Gowdy. Shame on Trey Gowdy,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his prime-time program Wednesday night.

Hannity opened Wednesday’s show with a monologue that targeted Gowdy for defending the FBI and repeated the unsubstantiated claim that the FBI planted a spy in the 2016 Trump campaign. 

“Gowdy apparently doesn’t get it. He’s actually defending the FBI’s use of spies in its overall investigation into Russian collusion,” Hannity said.

Earlier this week, Gowdy was interviewed on a number of network shows, where many of his comments seemed to undercut the president’s so-called Spygate theory about an informant who fed information to the FBI about the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia.

“I’ve never heard the word ‘spy’” used in a law enforcement setting, Gowdy said Thursday on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“Undercover informant, confidential informant — those are all words I’m familiar with,” he said.

Gowdy then defended the FBI for tracking the information fed to it by the person in the Trump campaign.

“Based on what I have seen, I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia. I would think you would want the FBI to find whether or not there was any validity to what those people were saying.”

Conservatives weren’t buying it.

Many, including popular conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, suggested Gowdy not only turned on Republicans and the president by supporting the FBI this week, but acted complicitly in a so-called deep state conspiracy to cover up “Spygate.”

(The “deep state,” a term popular in far-right circles, refers to a conspiratorial cabal of longtime government officials and financial titans who seek to influence policy and politics through non-democratically elected office.)

Radio show and Fox News host Laura Ingraham took issue with Gowdy’s reticence toward using the word “spy,” indicating that was a distraction from more pressing issues involving the Trump-Russia investigation.

“He’s obsessing over the definition of spy within the Intelligence Committee versus an informant in an ongoing investigation, which I think is beyond the point,” Ingraham said.

Former White House aide and Fox News contributor Sebastian Gorka characterized Gowdy’s defense of the FBI as a “flip-flop to justify” its actions.

Rudy Giuliani, brought on as an outside legal adviser to Trump, said Gowdy’s constituents “would probably be outraged at what he’s doing,” he told Buzzfeed News Thursday.

He then revisited recent history, hitting Gowdy for, in his view, blundering the investigation into Clinton’s handling of the attack on the American embassy at Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, where four Americans were killed.

“He sure screwed that one up. You got four families that do not think that Trey Gowdy did his job,” Giuliani said.

But Gowdy stood his ground.

“Informants are used all day, every day by law enforcement. They are sources of information. You call them confidential informants because you don’t want everyone to know they have a relationship with law enforcement,” he said Thursday on CBS.

“I can’t think of any major case I handled in 20 years where there was not someone willing to provide information. It’s up to law enforcement to go validate or ratify the information, but you have to have people coming forward. And then what law enforcement does is up to them.”

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