Conservatives on Capitol Hill are anxiously awaiting the imminent release of a report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general scrutinizing the law enforcement agency’s handling of its investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE’s private email server.
A spate of recent press reports suggesting that the document will be critical of top DOJ brass has raised expectations among some of President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s most ardent defenders that it will provide fuel for an ongoing broadside against the department.
Congress will likely not see the document until shortly before it is made public on Thursday, with its official conclusions remaining the subject of intense speculation until then.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s probe has already exposed two incidents that Republican lawmakers say show malfeasance at the DOJ.
In April, Horowitz issued a scathing report on former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe says Nassar case represents 'worst dereliction of duty' he's seen at FBI Capitol Police warning of potential for violence during rally backing rioters: report McCabe says law enforcement should take upcoming right-wing rally 'very seriously' MORE, alleging that he authorized a leak to the media in order to “advance his personal interests” and then misled internal investigators about the matter.
It was also an internal referral from Horowitz that led to the public exposure of text messages between counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Those messages, which were critical of Trump and other political figures during the 2016 presidential campaign, have been a lightning rod among figures on the right.
Horowitz will almost immediately have to face Congress to defend his conclusions, with the inspector general scheduled to appear in a pair of back-to-back hearings early next week.
Although Horowitz himself is widely seen by lawmakers from both parties as nonpartisan and fair, his report is almost certain to become a political football in the ongoing fight over the department’s conduct in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
How he evaluates controversial decisions made by former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE will be one of the most closely read portions of the report on Thursday.
Comey in particular has been in the crosshairs of Trump allies, who see him as Exhibit A that the bureau was biased against Trump during the election. The president has branded him a “liar,” a “leaker” and a “nut job.”
“I think the report of Horowitz, the [inspector general], and the Justice Department will confirm that Comey acted improperly with regard to the Hillary Clinton investigation,” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a recent interview with New York radio host John Catsimatidis.
“Comey, really, has a chance of being prosecuted as a result of [this report], but we’ll see,” Giuliani said.
After his firing, Comey outraged conservatives when he gave contemporaneous memos documenting his interactions with the president to a close friend so they would be shared with the media.
Comey said he released the memos with the hope that they would spur the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the bureau’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russia.
There is no evidence that those disclosures breached the law in any way, with Comey himself maintaining in a heated Fox News interview in April that the release did not constitute a “leak.”
Comey has also released a memoir harshly critical of the president since his dismissal in May 2017, a firing that eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE to lead the federal probe into Russia’s election meddling.
Democrats argue that by speaking publicly about eleventh-hour developments in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State — while not revealing the probe into Trump’s campaign during the election — Comey avoided any whiff of bias against Trump.
Horowitz’s report is widely expected to address the unusual public disclosures Comey made during the course of the Clinton investigation, including informing Congress just days before the 2016 election that he was effectively reopening the probe.
Comey has maintained that since he already informed Congress as part of another public announcement in July 2016 that the probe was finished, he was obligated to inform them that the bureau had uncovered additional, potentially relevant evidence.
Both moves bucked a powerful bureau norm that the law enforcement agency should not take any steps that might influence an election. Some press reports have also suggested that Comey will be criticized by the inspector general for going outside of the normal departmental chain of command.
In his memoir, Comey also expressed regret that he did not order the review of that evidence — emails found on a laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the ex-husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin — until almost a month after it was first mentioned to him that the computer “might have some connection to the Clinton email case.”
“I’ve also asked myself a hundred times whether I should have pressed for faster action after hearing something about Weiner’s laptop around the beginning of October,” Comey wrote. “But I did not understand what it meant until October 27.”
Although Comey has become a hero for some on the left since his dismissal by Trump last year, he was widely criticized by Democrats immediately following the election for the disclosure about the additional emails, which Clinton believes cost her the election.
Horowitz’s report is not expected to cover an ancillary investigation, demanded by Republicans, assessing whether the DOJ acted inappropriately when it obtained a surveillance warrant for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
And it remains an open question whether Horowitz will merely issue a critical assessment — or whether he will go so far as to recommend charges against any DOJ officials.
Horowitz in the spring issued a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., related to McCabe.
McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, called it “unjustified” at the time and said “the standard for an [inspector general] referral is very low.”
Referrals don’t guarantee charges will be brought or require prosecutors to act in any way.