Continued from page 1

Mr. Gowdy made his first stumble by portraying the investigation as a trial and the White House as the defendant. He conceded on Fox that perhaps he needed to get out of a 16-year habit of speaking in trial metaphors.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who serves with Mr. Gowdy on the House oversight panel, said the trial analogy gave him pause.

After congratulating Mr. Gowdy on the appointment, Mr. Connolly recalled, “I said, ‘You have a choice. This is an opportunity for you to make your mark as a fair and balanced chairman who’s capable of resisting the baser pressures from your echo chamber on the right and rise to the occasion and show some stature, or you can be remembered as just another flack who ran it in a partisan fashion with very little credibility who came and went.”

Mr. Connolly hastened to add that he has a good working relationship with Mr. Gowdy and wasn’t trying to be confrontational.

“But I was saying you’ve got two clear paths, and it matters which one you choose,” he said. “I like Trey Gowdy, and we’ve become very friendly and we have jousted, but done it in a civil and mutually respectful way, and we’ll see whether we have an opportunity to expand on that.”

‘He’s that good’

Mr. Woodard met Mr. Gowdy before his first political run for solicitor, South Carolina’s equivalent to a district attorney, in 2000. After winning election, Mr. Gowdy instantly changed the culture of the position from delegator to litigator.

“I mean, he knew just where to run that court case to get a conviction,” Mr. Woodard said with a chuckle. “And he knew exactly where he was on solid ground and where there was weak ground, and he didn’t go to the weak ground.”

Mr. Gowdy’s pursuit of justice occasionally made him a target. He, his wife, Terri, and his two children sometimes found a deputy sheriff staying in their home because of threats resulting from high-profile cases he prosecuted, Mr. Woodard recalled.

Mr. Woodard said that if Mr. Gowdy succeeds as chairman of the select committee and a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the congressman could be at the top of the list of attorney general candidates.

“I think that could happen. He’s that good,” he said. “He’s not quick to speak — kind of slow. But when he says something, he really, you know, carries some weight. He won’t turn this into a witch hunt. He’s not a wild-eyed sort of guy who does things like that.”