With the announcement by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that he plans to resign from Congress on June 30, it appears increasingly likely that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) will become the next Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the House’s powerful watchdog committee that has very broad investigative jurisdiction.  Although a final decision on the next Chairman might not occur until early June, Mr. Gowdy’s selection could have broad implications for the Committee’s prominent role in oversight, including oversight of corporations and other private parties.

Mr. Gowdy, a former federal and state prosecutor, is one of the strongest questioners of witnesses in the House or the Senate.  Unlike some others on the Oversight panel, Mr. Gowdy’s methodical interrogations are very similar to courtroom cross-examinations.  One of his favorite techniques is to grill a witness about past statements, making the witness parse the meaning of individual words, like a trial lawyer undermining a witness’s credibility on the stand.

Because the Oversight Committee tackles some of the most high-profile and controversial issues in Congress, both parties recognize that special skills are needed to lead the Committee.  Mr. Gowdy is widely recognized to have just those skills.  In addition to his professional background as a prosecutor, Mr. Gowdy led the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, which investigated the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, throughout its entire existence from 2014 to 2016.  Mr. Gowdy earned praise from his colleagues in his handling of the Committee’s investigation, which included a marathon hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  To be sure, Mr. Gowdy also garnered his share of criticism from Democratic Members.

While Mr. Gowdy has proven he has the skills to be Oversight Chairman, the substantive issues on which he would focus is less clear.  He is not known as a champion of any one particular topic.  Mr. Gowdy has publicly pushed for Congress to take on more nonpartisan oversight, leaving behind what he has referred to as the “political subpoenas” that characterized investigations during the Obama Administration.

Mr. Gowdy’s relationship with the Democrats on the Oversight Committee will be important to the direction of the Committee.  Current Chairman Chaffetz and the Ranking Democratic Member, Elijah Cummings, have an interesting relationship.  Although they often clash in hearings, in the press, and in internal wrangling about the Committee’s priorities, they have also jointly signed a number of document request letters and permitted some breathing room on each other’s favored issues.  For example, the Committee has conducted a number of investigations on pharmaceutical pricing, one of Mr. Cummings’s key priorities.  Mr. Cummings was also the senior Democratic Member of the Benghazi Committee.  Although their prior interactions show that they can certainly clash, they also know the areas where their interests might align.  Whether bipartisan oversight increases under Mr. Gowdy’s leadership remains to be seen.  Bipartisan oversight occurred more frequently during the Chaffetz-Cummings era than during earlier periods of the Committee’s history, and we generally think that trend will continue.

At times, the Committee has been criticized for flitting from topic to topic, conducting a large number of relatively high level investigations, with media interest often causing it to switch gears on short notice.  If we had to bet, we think that, under a Gowdy chairmanship, the Committee will concentrate more methodically on a smaller set of deeper investigations.  If that occurs, Mr. Gowdy could become one of the most influential chairmen of the Committee in many years.

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Photo of Robert Kelner Robert Kelner

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Mr. Kelner provides political law compliance advice to a wide range of corporate and political clients.  His compliance practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to…

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Mr. Kelner provides political law compliance advice to a wide range of corporate and political clients.  His compliance practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws, as well as legal ethics rules.  His expertise includes the Federal Election Campaign Act, Lobbying Disclosure Act, Ethics in Government Act, Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  He is also a leading authority on the arcane rules governing political contributions by municipal securities dealers, investment advisers, hedge funds, and private equity funds.  Mr. Kelner advises Presidential political appointees on the complex process of being vetted and confirmed for such appointments.

In addition, he regularly advises corporations and corporate executives on instituting political law compliance programs.  He conducts compliance training for senior corporate executives and lobbyists.  He has extensive experience conducting corporate internal investigations concerning campaign finance and lobbying law compliance, as well as other corporate compliance matters.  Mr. Kelner regularly defends clients in investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. House & Senate Ethics Committees, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, the House & Senate Judiciary Committees, the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and other congressional committees.  He has prepared numerous CEOs and corporate executives for testimony before congressional investigation panels, and he regularly leads the Practicing Law Institute’s training program on congressional investigations for in-house lawyers.  He also defends clients in Lobbying Disclosure Act audits by the GAO and enforcement actions and audits by state election and lobbying enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kelner has appeared as a commentator on political law matters on The PBS News Hour, CNBC, Fox News, and NPR, and he has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Legal Times, Washington Times, Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, USA Today, Financial Times, and other publications.

Photo of Brian D. Smith Brian D. Smith

Brian Smith provides strategic and legal advice on matters that require substantial political, reputational, or government relations considerations.  He represents companies and individuals in high-profile or high-risk investigations, particularly congressional investigations, criminal investigations with political implications, and investigations related to political law compliance. …

Brian Smith provides strategic and legal advice on matters that require substantial political, reputational, or government relations considerations.  He represents companies and individuals in high-profile or high-risk investigations, particularly congressional investigations, criminal investigations with political implications, and investigations related to political law compliance.  He has significant experience in crisis management, where he advises clients facing combined legal, political, and media relations risks.  His practice also includes the development and execution of government relations initiatives, including securing the U.S. government’s political support on behalf of U.S. companies facing international legal issues.

Photo of Andrew Garrahan Andrew Garrahan

Andrew Garrahan represents and counsels clients at the intersection of law and politics. He guides them through both regulatory compliance issues and government investigations on matters including state and federal campaign finance, ethics, lobbying, and corruption.

Mr. Garrahan’s prior career in political fundraising…

Andrew Garrahan represents and counsels clients at the intersection of law and politics. He guides them through both regulatory compliance issues and government investigations on matters including state and federal campaign finance, ethics, lobbying, and corruption.

Mr. Garrahan’s prior career in political fundraising gives him a unique perspective on the challenges faced by his clients, which include corporations, candidates, government officials, political and nonprofit organizations, and private individuals.

Mr. Garrahan is a member of the Virginia and District of Columbia bars.