Gowdy Will Defer to Mueller, Intel Panel on Russia Probes

Gowdy Will Defer to Mueller, Intel Panel on Russia Probes
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Rep. Trey Gowdy, the newly minted chairman of the House oversight committee, said he will likely not probe directly Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, hoping to avoid conflicting with investigations conducted by the Department of Justice special counsel or other congressional committees.

Gowdy became chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, replacing Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who plans to retire from Congress at the end of this month. Gowdy said Friday that he would cede priority of potentially criminal matters to Special Counsel Bob Mueller, leave matters pertaining to Russia’s election interference to the Intelligence Committee, and leave any oversight of the Department of Justice or FBI to the Judiciary Committee.

The South Carolina lawmaker said he had likely interviewed Comey more than any other member of Congress because of his roles on both the intelligence and judiciary committees, but had done so only once in his capacity as a member of the oversight panel.

Though Chaffetz had called on Comey to testify before his committee and requested copies of his memos related to President Trump, Gowdy said the panel wasn’t the appropriate place for those matters.

“I told Bob Mueller Tuesday that I would never do anything wittingly, or unwittingly, that veered over into his lane. And his lane is broad and it is undetermined at this point,” Gowdy told a group of reporters Friday. The meeting with Mueller fell under Gowdy’s duties in the intelligence committee investigation, and was not related to his work on oversight.

That doesn’t mean that he won’t use the latter gavel to probe issues related to the Russia investigations. For example, Gowdy suggested that his committee could look into processes for issuing and revoking security clearances, and whether changes are needed.

But Democrats on the committee sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus earlier this week requesting information about the security clearances of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Gowdy said those matters are best left to the special counsel.

“Allegations of criminal or quasi-criminal activity is squarely within Mueller’s jurisdiction,” he said.

In the session with reporters, Gowdy laid out some of his vision for the oversight committee under his leadership. He said he preferred conducting investigations in private first, and using public hearings to highlight and present facts rather than as a “fact-gathering exercise.” He also emphasized having a good working relationship with the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings. The two were in similar positions as the chairman and ranking member on the select committee investigating the Benghazi attacks in the previous Congress.

Gowdy said he’s talked to Cummings a dozen times since taking over from Chaffetz -- Cummings is currently recovering from a heart surgery, and Gowdy has kept him apprised of his thinking on committee action. He said the committee will hold a hearing on criminal justice reform next week -- an issue of deep concern for Cummings -- and likely will hold another hearing later this year after Cummings returns.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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