WASHINGTON — The president’s decision to bulk up his legal team with former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy amid a widening impeachment inquiry is drawing criticism from one of his high-profile supporters.
On Wednesday morning, the day after news leaked that Gowdy was set to serve as outside counsel to the president, Victoria Toensing, a veteran Washington lawyer who has been working with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, expressed concern and disbelief that the onetime advocate for congressional oversight would be coming onboard.
“Trey Gowdy doesn’t know s***,” she said.
Toensing argued that Gowdy mishandled the select committee that investigated Democrat Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. She also took issue with comments Gowdy made last year in which he urged Trump to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign’s role in Russian attempts to intervene in the 2016 presidential race.
“He screwed up the Benghazi hearings, and he came out with the advice to Trump, ‘Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, just talk to Bob Mueller.’”
Toensing and her husband, Joe diGenova, work with Giuliani though they are not officially on Trump’s legal team. The pair, who are close with the president, are regulars on the conservative cable network Fox News. Last month, the channel reported they were “working off the books” with Giuliani to help get opposition research on former Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently mounting a White House bid.
In March of last year, it was announced that Toensing and DiGenova were set to formally join the team of lawyers working for the president on the Mueller probe. However, days later, Jay Sekulow, who works as Trump’s personal attorney along with Giuliani, said the pair could not come onboard due to conflicts. “Those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters,” Sekulow said.
After issuing her scathing critique of Gowdy, Toensing went on to suggest that other lawyers working for the president shared her opinion.
“He’s not on the team. Trey Gowdy is not on the team. Who told you Trey Gowdy? Not to my knowledge, not to Rudy’s knowledge, not Joe’s knowledge,” said Toensing, who had not heard of the move at the time of her interview with Yahoo News on Wednesday morning. “I have to check that with Rudy because that would be a joke, because we all don’t think much of him,” she said of Gowdy, adding, “Are you kidding? ... Trey is a joke among us.”
However, by Wednesday evening, Sekulow officially announced Gowdy’s appointment.
“I am pleased to announce that former Congressman Trey Gowdy is joining our team as counsel to the president,” Sekulow said. “I have known Trey for years and worked with him when he served in Congress. His legal skills and his advocacy will serve the president well. Trey’s command of the law is well known and his service on Capitol Hill will be a great asset as a member of our team.”
Neither Gowdy nor Sekulow responded to a request for comment about Toensing’s misgivings.
Gowdy’s addition to the legal team comes as the president faces a widening impeachment inquiry focusing on a July phone call he had with Ukraine’s newly elected leader during which he asked the government in Kiev to investigate Biden’s son. Last month, following news of a whistleblower complaint about the call and evidence that Trump had withheld a $400 million aid package to Ukraine, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry. That inquiry is being led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and two other committee chairs.
Giuliani, a former New York City mayor who plays a dual role of legal adviser and media surrogate for the president, defended Gowdy when asked about Toensing’s criticisms. Specifically, he suggested Gowdy’s experience on Capitol Hill would be an asset to Trump.
“My opinion would be he would be an excellent addition, filling a gap that is getting to be more and more important because, frankly, Schiff is off the rails,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani also discussed how Toensing and diGenova work with him and Sekulow.
“The president is being represented in his personal capacity — because he’s still an American citizen with all the rights of an American citizen — by Jay and me,” Giuliani told Yahoo News. “Joe and Vicky are not representing the president. They are … representing some people that have information that could be very valuable to us.”
Giuliani did not specify who those people were, however.
For her part, Toensing described the role she and diGenova play with regard to Trump and the president’s lawyers as unofficial.
“Joe and I are very informal, and we work with Rudy a lot, and we think the world of Jay,” Toensing said. “We do what we do.”
Read more from Yahoo News: