Former U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who led a congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that ramped up controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, said he “can’t wait” to leave Capitol Hill and politics behind.
Gowdy joined Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as a partner Jan. 3 with his longtime colleagues Cindy Crick and Sheria Clarke, who are also lawyers.
Crick was Gowdy’s chief of staff during his eight years in Congress as a Republican representing South Carolina’s Fourth District, and Clarke is the former staff director at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Gowdy chaired. Both joined as of counsel.
The news that Gowdy was joining Nelson Mullins broke Dec. 20, but, per ethics rules, his actual start date is Jan. 3, now that the new Congress has convened, and he declined earlier interview requests.
Gowdy, who’s made no secret of his frustration with partisan Congressional gridlock, said he’s looking forward to practicing law again.
“The justice system is different from the political system,” said Gowdy, who spent 16 years as a prosecutor before being elected to Congress in 2010. “There’s rules, there’s process and a desired outcome. In politics the desire is simply to win. I did not want to be a part of that.”
“I can’t wait to walk away—undefeated and unindicted,” he added, noting that unlike many in Congress, he left of his own volition, not because he got pushed out. He announced a year ago that he would not seek re-election.
“We are very pleased Congressman Gowdy has decided to return to our firm, and I am happy to welcome Cindy and Sheria, who are outstanding lawyers” said Nelson Mullins’ managing partner, Jim Lehman, in a statement.
“Trey’s ability to reach across the aisle and relate to individuals in all areas is rare in Washington today. He is a well-respected leader in our nation’s capital and the legal community. Our clients will greatly benefit from his strategic advice and advocacy.”
Gowdy will work from Nelson Mullin’s offices in Washington and Greenville, South Carolina, handling white-collar defense for both individuals and companies, as well as corporate compliance matters and investigations.
Gowdy has spent the last 24 years in public service, logging 16 years as a prosecutor before being elected to Congress in 2011. Before that, he worked for Nelson Mullins as a young associate.
“I have a long, rich history with the firm and a ton of respect for them,” Gowdy said, adding that many of his law school classmates at the University of South Carolina joined Nelson Mullins, headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina, and he’s kept in touch with them over the years.
“They were great to me then. It’s a natural fit and one I’m excited about,” he said.
Gowdy initially joined Nelson Mullins as a new associate in 1993 after clerking for Judge John Gardner of the South Carolina Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court Judge George Ross Anderson Jr. of the District of South Carolina.
He left to become an assistant U.S. Attorney for South Carolina in 1994 and then in 2000 was elected the Seventh Circuit Solicitor, as the state’s district attorneys are known. He held that post until he was elected to Congress in 2010.
Gowdy said he prosecuted “every kind of crime you can prosecute,” as an AUSA and circuit solicitor, including seven death penalty cases (which he won) and homicide by child abuse. “Litigators know that you put your … life on hold to do those,” he said. “After a while it takes a toll on your soul, seeing one act of depravity after another.”
One summer when he was circuit solicitor, three children were murdered, he said, and his wife and mother encouraged him to try something new.
“After 16 years of crime scene photos and unspeakable depravity, it was time to do something else. So I ran for Congress,” Gowdy said.
Benghazi and Clinton, Russia and Trump
Gowdy participated in numerous high-profile congressional investigations while in office. He chaired the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s controversial $7.8 million probe of the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA outposts in Libya, which uncovered an undisclosed tranche of government-related emails from Clinton’s private server and prompted accusations from Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, that the investigation was fueled mainly by Republican partisanship.
“My closest friends would describe me as being fair—I work on that,” Gowdy said. “I try to look at issues from other people’s perspective, with all the facts, even those that are not favorable to me. Politics does not work like that. I should have probably left after six years.”
He said his biggest achievement as a congressman was creating an award for children in his district dealing with serious obstacles in life, such as having incarcerated parents, being born without arms or with a terminal illness.
All the nominees, made by teachers and guidance counselors, received an achievement certificate, and he visited about 100 children at their schools to deliver the certificate in person with “a hug and a word of encouragement,” adding that no media were invited.
“The look on their faces was worth it—that someone took the time to notice what they overcame,” he said. “That’s what I will remember most. It was the most valuable thing I did in eight years in Congress.”
The new Nelson Mullins partner said he’s out of politics for good. “You won’t see me on a ballot again,” he said.
Other investigations that Gowdy worked on in Congress included the House probe of the ATF over Operation Fast and Furious for allegedly allowing guns to be sold to Mexican drug cartels, the IRS probe over allegations that it was targeting conservative nonprofits for audits—and, most recently, the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.
The committee’s initial probe into whether there was any Russia-Trump campaign collusion led to allegations of DOJ bias against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, with the Peter Strzok and Lisa Page text exchanges surfacing, which then led to an investigation of the FISA authorization process, after the FBI used the so-called Steele memo on Trump-Russia ties to gain a warrant from a FISA judge to spy on members of the Trump campaign.
The House Intelligence Committee’s heavily redacted report, released in April, found that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia to sway the election in his favor.
Gowdy, who interviewed both Michael Cohen and Donald Trump Jr. for the House investigation, said he does not think there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he does think there is “no question that Russia interfered with our election,” and added that special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s mandate is to “determine what Russia did in 2016 and determine with whom, if anyone, they did it.”
“You’ll never hear me refer to [the] Russia [investigation] as a hoax or a witch hunt. I’ve always said Mueller should be given the time, independence and resources to complete the job he was assigned,” Gowdy said, adding that “it is in our country’s best interest for Mueller to complete the investigation as soon as possible.”
“It’s been hopelessly politicized,” he said. “Why is it not enough that we identify a hostile foreign adversary who tried to influence our election?”
“I want [Mueller] to do a job in which everyone can have confidence. I know he’s smart enough to realize how incredibly divisive this is,” Gowdy continued. “Leave him alone and let him do his job. And to him I would say: Do it as quickly as you can and then let us know what you’ve found.”