CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Horowitz’s history of political campaign contributions. His only known political donation is to Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE’s (D-Colo.) campaign in 2010. A different person by the same name donated to Sens. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senators demand Pentagon action after nude photo scandal Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings MORE (D-Conn.) and Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSpeculation grows over Trump FCC pick A Justice Gorsuch will defend religious Americans from persecution Dem to Trump: 'You truly are an evil man' MORE (D-N.Y.).
A new inspector general (IG) investigation into the FBI’s conduct leading up the 2016 election is likely to continue after Inauguration Day, whether President-elect Donald TrumpDonald Trump Jeb Bush: Trump a ‘distraction in and of himself’ Protests erupt across Russia, hundreds arrested: reports Ill. gov candidate runs as fresh face, despite ties to political machine MORE wants it or not.
Although the inspector general himself, Michael E. Horowitz, is a political appointee, everyone beneath him is a career official.
Trump could remove Horowitz, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say it’s unlikely that he would be able to halt the investigation.
The president “cannot shut down a probe, that’s the whole point of the IG,” House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. “They’re supposed to be independent.”
Trump has not yet commented on the investigation, which is being undertaken by the Justice Department’s IG, but has often bristled at actions aimed at revisiting the election.
Democrats dismissed the notion that the president-elect would be able to shut down the inquiry, although they allowed that Trump might replace Horowitz with an IG of his choosing.
“If the IG were let go, [career assistant IGs] would continue their investigation. It would be almost foolish — that would not look good, to stop an investigation,” House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said.
Incoming presidents have in the past allowed IGs to stay on to complete investigations.
If Trump were to dismiss Horowitz, former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, there would be “a Saturday night massacre situation.”
“Trump could fire the inspector general, but I think that would be very unwise — you’d have mass resignations at the Justice Department. It’s one of those fundamental rules that the president does not fire people who are conducting an investigation,” said Miller, who has been an outspoken critic of FBI Director James Comey’s conduct during the election.
The wide-ranging investigation is being undertaken at the behest of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
It will examine allegations that Comey broke bureau policy with his various public disclosures regarding the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton“60 Minutes” tracks how fake news spreads Ill. gov candidate runs as fresh face, despite ties to political machine Huma Abedin 'working hard' on marriage with Anthony Weiner: report MORE’s private email server. Her campaign has blamed the FBI’s disclosures, and particularly one that came in late October, as having cost her the election.
The inquiry will also look into Republican allegations that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case following reports that a Clinton ally donated to his wife’s political campaign, and claims that DOJ congressional liaison Peter Kadzik improperly provided information to the Clinton campaign.
But the first prong of the investigation has garnered by far the most attention, sparking speculation that Trump may see it as an attack on the legitimacy of his victory.
Horowitz is an Obama appointee. He was previously appointed to a position by President George W. Bush (R). Horowitz’s only known political donation is to Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) campaign in 2010.
The internal review will not change the outcome of the FBI’s findings in the Clinton review, Horowitz told lawmakers in his announcement.
And the White House was quick to say on Thursday that it had no role in the decision to open the investigation. The Trump transition team has accused the Obama administration of deliberately undermining the president-elect on the eve of his inauguration.
“Decisions that are made by inspectors general across the administration are independent," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “Hopefully they will follow the evidence where it leads.”
The ramifications of the probe are unclear. While Horowitz does have the authority to recommend a criminal investigation, he is limited to reviewing whether Comey violated bureau policy or showed poor judgment. There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that Comey broke the law.
Trump vacillated in his opinion of the FBI leading up to the election. When Comey announced that he would not be recommending charges against Clinton for mishandling classified information in July, Trump excoriated the bureau as corrupt and politically motivated.
After Comey’s 11th-hour disclosure in late October that investigators had uncovered more emails “potentially pertinent” to the investigation, Trump said he had “great respect” for the bureau.
But he has been notably silent on whether he will keep Comey in his job after he takes office on Jan. 20. The director has seven years of a 10-year tenure left to serve.
The transition team has scoffed at assertions from the Clinton campaign that Comey was responsible for her loss, arguing that Democrats are sore losers who are unwilling to admit that they rallied behind an unlikable candidate.
Some Republicans praised the IG’s investigation, though Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (R-Iowa), who submitted one of the referrals behind it, said it does not go far enough.
“Conspicuously absent is any specific reference to the attorney general’s failure to recuse herself from the probe, particularly after her meeting with former President Clinton,” Grassley said in a statement.
Grassley is referring to Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting last summer with former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonWe must act now and pass the American Health Care Act Trump's message: Russia First or America First? Senate Democrats should grill Judge Gorsuch on antitrust. Here's how. MORE on an airport tarmac. After that meeting, Lynch was under pressure to recuse herself from the case, but instead announced that she would accept the FBI’s recommendation on whether to charge Clinton.
The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
- Updated at 11:35 a.m. on Jan. 13.