Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee.
There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him an answer other than the one he expects, he repeats his question at a slightly louder volume and angrier pitch, as though the question hadn't actually been answered.
This is a good example, in which Gowdy blasts the director of the National Park Service for closing national memorials during the government shutdown, thereby allowing Republicans to stage a photo op in which they proclaimed their solidarity with veterans wanting to go to the memorials. You'll recall that it was Tea Partiers like Gowdy who pushed for the government shutdown in the first place; this was a lame attempt to somehow shift blame onto the Obama administration for the shutdown, one that didn't work. Instead of thanking the director for making their photo op possible, Gowdy angrily demands that the director tell him the statute that allows him to put barricades around the memorials and prevent our fine veterans from entering them. The director cites the statute that covers the procedures the Park Service is supposed to follow during a shutdown. Gowdy was apparently expecting the director to say, "I have no idea" or evade the question, so he asks the question a couple more times as though it were being evaded. If you didn't speak English, you'd probably think this tough prosecutor has really got this witness on the ropes:
Which tells you why Gowdy got picked for this job. John Boehner is doing this for the base, and the base wants someone who will channel the anger and contempt they feel for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the rest of the administration. Gowdy, a former prosecutor, is already referring to this enterprise not as an investigation but as a "trial," making clear that he sees his job not as finding the truth but as convicting the accused. And for someone who has supposedly been obsessed with Benghazi, he doesn't seem to have much of a grasp on what the multiple investigations of the issue have already revealed. So what we're likely to see is a lot of desk-pounding, a lot of "Answer the damn question!", and not much (or any) wrongdoing actually uncovered.
Of course, I'm assuming that there isn't actually some bombshell revelation just waiting to be discovered. I'm pretty sure I'm on firm ground on that one, though. And it's possible that Gowdy will lead a professional, sober, thorough investigation that will win him kudos from all observers, regardless of their ideology. But a professional, sober, thorough investigation isn't what his party's base really wants. They want to see members of the Obama administration squirm in the witness chair. They want some fireworks. And Trey Gowdy is just the man to give it to them.