What to watch for in IG report on Justice, FBI, Clinton emails

What to watch for in IG report on Justice, FBI, Clinton emails
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The Justice Department’s inspector general on Thursday afternoon is slated to release his hotly anticipated assessment of the law enforcement agency’s conduct during the 2016 election.

The document is expected to be critical of top Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI brass during the course of the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLewandowski says 'womp womp' at story of young girl being separated from mother at border Giuliani: FBI asked me about tease of a 'surprise' before election Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe MORE’s private email server.

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The White House and Congress will be briefed on the document just hours before its public release — but for now, its conclusions remain a matter of speculation.

Here are five things to watch for when the report becomes public.

Treatment of Comey

The report’s judgment of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani: FBI asked me about tease of a 'surprise' before election Republicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe FBI agent Peter Strzok escorted from building amid internal review MORE will be perhaps the most closely read portion of the report.

His decisions during the 2016 presidential race were met with fierce criticism from both political parties.

Comey has come under fire for publicly announcing, just days before the election, that the bureau was examining new information related to the bureau’s probe into Clinton’s handling of classified materials while she was secretary of State.

Clinton and her aides have argued that Comey’s decision, given its timing, contributed to her loss.

Democrats also hammered him after it became known that at the same time he was speaking publicly about the Clinton probe, he was staying silent about the counterintelligence investigation examining possible ties between Russia and the Republican presidential nominee, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE.

Conservatives have also gone after Comey, accusing him of trying to shield Clinton from prosecution. Republican lawmakers have seized on Comey’s decision to call Clinton’s handling of her emails “extremely careless” and not the potentially criminal “grossly negligent.”

They have argued that he precooked the conclusions because he began drafting the statement before he had interviewed Clinton.

Treatment of Strzok/Page

FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page have faced a barrage of attacks by conservatives who say their text messages, which criticized Trump and other political figures during the campaign, serve as proof of systemic bias against the president.

The Strzok-Page messages have become a key flashpoint among Republicans because of their involvement in two high-profile probes: the Clinton email investigation and the beginnings of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia probe.

Strzok served as the FBI’s No. 2 official in the Clinton investigation, and his reported role in drafting the Clinton exoneration letter ignited an explosion of GOP scrutiny.

Both FBI officials went on to serve on Mueller’s team before being reassigned. When the inspector general uncovered their text messages, they were removed from the special counsel’s federal probe.

Conservatives are eager to see whether they will be further faulted for their conduct.

Are there any criminal referrals?

It remains an open question whether DOJ inspector general, Michael Horowitz, will merely issue a critical assessment — or whether he will go so far as to recommend charges against DOJ officials.

Horowitz, in the spring, issued a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., related to fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeNo, Christopher Wray, we don't trust you FBI has no excuse to hide future scandals from American public The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Defiant Trump meets with House GOP amid border blowback MORE.

McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, at the time called it “unjustified” and said “the standard for an [inspector general] referral is very low.”

Some of Comey’s fiercest critics have argued that his conduct was criminal.

“Comey, really, has a chance of being prosecuted as a result of [this report], but we’ll see,” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a recent interview with New York radio host John Catsimatidis.

Referrals don’t guarantee charges will be brought or require prosecutors to act in any way.

What will Trump allies seize upon?

For months, Trump allies on Capitol Hill have argued that the Department of Justice was biased against Trump during the 2016 campaign.

They point to texts from Strzok and Page and what they describe as overly aggressive tactics used during the FBI’s original counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign to argue that Mueller’s probe is a “witch hunt.”

Those lawmakers will almost certainly be combing through Horowitz’s report for evidence to bolster their claims. What they point to could suggest fresh avenues of attack and inquiry on Capitol Hill.

Will Horowitz be cast as part of the ‘Deep State’?

The DOJ inspector general is a political appointee under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAnother chance to seek the return of fiscal sanity to the halls of Congress Colombia’s new leader has a tough road ahead, and Obama holdovers aren't helping An alternative to Trump's family separation policy MORE.

Right now, Democrats and Republicans alike characterize him as a straight shooter.

But his report is almost certain to become a political football in the fight over the department’s conduct in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Asked Wednesday if he would trust Horowitz’s conclusions if he finds no wrongdoing on the part of the department, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Trump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration North Carolina governor recalls National Guard troops from border over family separation MORE (R-N.C.) said he did not expect that outcome.

“I would certainly trust his judgment on what he found. It would not be consistent with some of the things that I found,” said Meadows, one of the fiercest critics of the DOJ in Congress.

“So I would give him the evidence that I have and say, ‘Did you consider this?’ But I don’t think he is going to find that,” he said.