Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe gets most the publicity these days, but another investigation involving the 2016 election is wrapping up soon and could be just as explosive.
For the last 12 months, the inspector general of the Department of Justice has been conducting a review of the FBI and DOJ’s actions related to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
A final report on the investigation is expected within several months. But in the coming days, the Department of Justice is also expected to provide Congress with “many, many more” records related to the review, according to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“[The IG is] doing a thorough job that folks across the political spectrum will be interested in,” Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that has sued for Clinton’s emails, told Fox News.
The investigation is looking at a variety of allegations, including whether it was improper for former FBI Director James Comey to make a public announcement about not recommending prosecution over the email arrangement – he also faulted Clinton and her associates for being “extremely careless” with classified information.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz also is reviewing whether FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from the probe early because of his family’s ties to the Democratic Party. (He did not do so until a week before the election.)
Horowitz told lawmakers during a November congressional hearing that he is aiming to release the report in the “March, April time period.”
“We’re moving along quite expeditiously,” Horowitz told the House Oversight Committee.
The inspector general said his team has interviewed dozens of people and had reviewed about 1.2 million records in the course of its investigation.
And Congress is gearing up to thumb through them.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the Justice Department has committed to turning over a large number of those records by Jan. 15.
'We’re moving along quite expeditiously.'
So far, other documents already turned over to the committee have made a big splash.
The inspector general’s review uncovered the anti-Trump texts from FBI official Peter Strzok, who called Trump an “idiot” and texted about an “insurance policy” against a Trump presidency.
Strzok had been assigned to Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, but has since been reassigned.
As the one-year anniversary of Horowitz' announcement of the review approaches, the inspector general says the classified information involved and necessary security clearances have slowed the process.
That announcement spelled out the scope of the probe. On Jan. 12, 2016, a release from Horowitz said the review would look into allegations that DOJ or FBI policies were not followed with Comey’s public announcement and letters to Congress about the Clinton probe.
Horowitz said his team would look at whether “certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations.”
Congressional Republicans have since raised questions about another aspect: Comey's team drafting a statement effectively clearing Clinton even before interviewing her and other key witnesses. It's unclear whether Horowitz will tackle this in his findings.
Horowitz, though, said he would look into allegations that McCabe should have been recused from the investigation. McCabe’s wife ran as a Democrat for a Virginia Senate seat in 2015, and she received donations from the super PAC of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.
A recent story published by The Washington Post said McCabe plans to retire in several months after becoming eligible for benefits – which means it’s plausible he could leave the FBI before the review about him is released.
The review is also looking at whether the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs “improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign” and should have been recused. That’s in reference to official Peter Kadzik, who had been an attorney in the past for Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Horowitz said the review is looking at whether any DOJ or FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.
It seems likely that the president and other conservatives will seize on the report after it’s released.
“The political compromise of the DOJ and FBI during the Obama administration needs to be confronted immediately,” Fitton said.
But Fitton also acknowledged that the report could be welcomed by Clinton – who has blamed Comey’s Oct. 28, 2016 letter telling Congress he had re-opened the email investigation for contributing significantly to her loss.
“Recall the focus of the investigation was what Comey was doing in respect to Hillary Clinton – did he do something inappropriate in releasing information about his investigation of her,” he said. “So it could be something that Hillary Clinton would be interested in.”