DOJ Inspector General report on FBI handling of Clinton email probe entering final stages
8:17 PM, May 16, 2018
A draft of the much-anticipated report from the Justice Department's internal watchdog, addressing a wide-ranging set of allegations that department protocols were flouted when the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information, has been completed, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz informed lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday that his office has provided leadership at the Justice Department and FBI with a copy of the draft report and has requested that they review it for classified information.
"We will update you on the specific timing for the report's release, and I will be prepared to provide a briefing and testify publicly about our findings and conclusions as soon as the report is released," Horowitz wrote in a letter to members of various committees.
Of all the politically charged reports accusing law enforcement of misconduct since President Donald Trump took office, this one from the Inspector General's office -- now 17 months in the making -- has the potential to deliver the stiffest blow for officials who formerly occupied the highest positions within the FBI and Justice Department.
"It's not going to be good, it's just a question of how bad it's going to be," said one former Justice Department official.
The report is not yet finalized, however, as lawyers for the various individuals criticized in it have an opportunity to review it with their clients and submit rebuttal points for consideration. That process is underway with several witnesses having been notified they can review it later this week, according to sources familiar with the matter, but its precise conclusions and recommendations have largely been kept under wraps.
When Horowitz first launched the investigation in January 2017, he made clear that the report would tackle then-FBI Director James Comey's controversial move to announce, without Justice Department approval, that he was not recommending criminal charges against Clinton for her handling of classified information, as well as Comey's subsequent letters to lawmakers in the days leading up to the presidential election, essentially reopening and then closing the investigation once again.
One potential preview of Horowitz's findings on those decisions by Comey was already outlined in a blistering memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which detailed the ways Comey broke with long-standing department protocols and customs. Rosenstein's memo, controversial in its own regard, was initially used to rationalize firing Comey, but then Trump later said he would have done it regardless of Rosenstein's memo, and has since defended his decision as a "great honor."
The political ripple effects of Horowitz's work over the last several months have already been felt by some.
His office uncovered scores of private text messages exchanged between top FBI officials who dreaded Trump would win the presidency. Given their roles at the FBI and brief stints on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, the texts have been regularly used by allies of Trump as the textbook example of political bias infecting the FBI -- but they have yet to receive a non-partisan, public assessment by the inspector general.
Horowitz's bullet-point list of topics for investigation also includes allegations that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from participating in certain investigation matters, but McCabe was fired in March after a scathing report by Horowitz's office concluded that he lied to investigators. McCabe has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but is now ensnarled in a criminal investigation by the US Attorney's office in DC based on the inspector general's findings -- a searing reminder of the gravity of the office's powers.
And then there's perhaps the most nebulous subject on Horowitz's list that has received far less of a public resolution to date, "allegations that the Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information."
One source familiar with the scope of the report said that accusations that FBI agents in New York leaked information about the Clinton investigation to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani have been examined. Giuliani, then an adviser to the Trump campaign, drew attention in late October 2016 when he went on Fox News -- two days before Comey revealed he was reopening the Clinton email investigation -- to say Trump had "a surprise or two that you're going to hear about in the next two days."
Giuliani later backtracked when pressed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to explain further, saying, "If I did say that, that was wrong. ... I have not spoken to an on-duty FBI agent about anything I guess for the last 10 months. I've actually never talked about this investigation to any current member of the Justice Department or FBI agent."
Comey has said in more recent interviews that he had commissioned an investigation into leaks from the New York field office, but told The Washington Post he had "no idea" what Giuliani was talking about.
"I still don't know to this day whether he was actually getting information from inside the FBI," Comey said.
Horowitz may shed light on that lingering question.