(CNN)House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said Wednesday he is not running for re-election and plans to leave politics.
Rep. Trey Gowdy not seeking re-election
Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, issued a statement saying he planned to retire from Congress at the end of this term and would return to working in the justice system.
"Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system," the South Carolina Republican said. "As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding."
Gowdy's announcement makes him the latest Republican committee chairman to announce retirement ahead of midterm elections that are seeing a spike in Republicans headed for the exit. Unlike many other members, however, Gowdy was not facing a difficult re-election campaign in 2018.
Gowdy, who was first elected in 2010 after ousting former Rep. Bob Inglis, became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last year after Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz left Congress.
The South Carolina Republican earned conservative plaudits and national recognition as a chief investigator in the House, most famously helming the House probe into the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. Democrats lambasted the investigation, accusing Republicans of using it to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Gowdy's retirement is unlikely to have an effect on the balance of power in the GOP-controlled House. President Donald Trump and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the 4th Congressional District by more than 20 points in their respective elections, and it is almost certain to remain in GOP hands.
In a statement released shortly after Gowdy's announcement, the National Republican Congressional Committee praised the congressman and expressed confidence the GOP would retain control of the district.
Several challengers have already announced their plans to run for the 4th Congressional District seat. State Sen. William Timmons of Greenville announced his run just hours after Gowdy's statement. Spartanburg County Republican Party Chairman Josh Kimbrell took to Facebook to say he is exploring a run for the seat. State Rep. Dan Hamilton of Greenville also confirmed to CNN that he will run.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley -- a former Republican governor of South Carolina -- likewise praised Gowdy in a tweet.
"I always said the reason @TGowdySC was amazing at his job was bc he disliked politics so much. Trey, thank you for your impatience, sacrifice, and fight to make our country a more just place. SC and our country thank you for your service. I thank you for your friendship," Haley said.
In a series of tweets praising Gowdy, South Carolina's GOP Sen. Tim Scott anticipated another chapter in his colleague's career and nodded to Gowdy's widely noted and varying hairstyles.
Gowdy's congressional tenure has been marked by central roles in high-profile investigations.
The Gowdy-led House Benghazi investigation drew near constant headlines and included a focus on Clinton's email practices as secretary of state.
In the fall of 2015, Clinton appeared before the committee for a daylong hearing, and as he released a report on the probe's findings, Gowdy defended the investigation and faulted the Obama administration for lapses that led to the deaths in Benghazi.
Gowdy's name surfaced as a potential choice last May in the wake of Trump's decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Gowdy took himself out of the running, and said in a statement at the time that he had told Attorney General Jeff Sessions he would not be the right choice to take over the bureau.
More recently, Gowdy has both criticized the FBI's conduct during the 2016 election and defended former FBI Director Robert Mueller's stewardship of the special counsel investigation into potential coordination between Trump's associates and Russia to influence the 2016 US election.
As some Trump allies have ratcheted up criticism of the special counsel, Gowdy has voiced his support for Mueller, saying last fall that he did not think Mueller should step down. Last Sunday on Fox News, Gowdy maintained his position, saying he had "100%" trust in Mueller.
At the same time, Gowdy has been among the chief proponents of releasing a controversial memo from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, alleging the FBI abused its surveillance powers.