The Justice Department’s Inspector General is expected, any day now, to release his much anticipated report on the department’s activities in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
The review is mostly focused on DOJ’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. It is separate from the Inspector General probe into surveillance warrants sought for an ex-Trump campaign advisor, nor will it likely cover the other GOP allegations of bias in DOJ’s Trump-Russia investigation. (The Inspector General, it’s worth noting, hasn’t formally announced any inquiries into the Trump investigation matters besides the one reviewing the surveillance warrants).
Rather, the Office of Inspector General — in its January 2017 announcement that it was opening its probe, at the behest of lawmakers of both parties — said the report would cover five major areas.
Here is what they are, what we know about them so far, and what questions remain:
Comey’s Clinton Press Conference, And His Two Letters To Congress
Among the episodes Inspector General Michael Horowitz is examining is a press conference FBI Director Jim Comey gave in July 2016 in which he stridently criticized Clinton for using an outside email server. Comey called Clinton’s actions “extremely careless,” but recommended that no charges be brought. The sort of announcement that Comey made then is typically left to the Justice Department. Comey has since defended the move by arguing that he was seeking to restore DOJ leadership’s credibility after Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which angered Republicans.
The Inspector General also is looking at Comey’s decision to send Congress a letter in late October 2016 announcing that the investigation had been reopened to search files found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, who was being investigated for sex crimes and whose wife, Huma Abedin was one of Clinton’s closest aides.
Days later, just before the election, Comey sent Congress another letter indicating that nothing the FBI found had changed the conclusions it had previously reached in the Clinton email probe. But by then, the news cycle had been dominated by the news that the email probe had been reopened.
It is not typical for the Justice Department to announce the opening or reopening of an investigation. And there’s a DOJ policy ordering that it stay quiet about investigations that could influence an election in the weeks leading up to election day.
Comey has said that even though he feels “mildly nauseous” that his announcement may have impacted the election, he doesn’t regret sending the letters.
Whether McCabe Should Have Been Recused From The Clinton Probe
Prior to the report set to be unveiled in the days to come, the Inspector General released the findings in its review pertaining to ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent Trump target who was fired in February by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hours before he was eligible for full pension benefits. The Inspector General said then that McCabe misled its investigators who were reviewing his decision to permit details about internal feuds over Clinton investigations to be disclosed to the press.
This latest report also is examining the decision that McCabe not recuse himself from overseeing the Clinton probe. An October 2016 Wall Street Journal story revealing that McCabe’s wife, in an unsuccessful 2015 state Senate race, received campaign contributions by a group linked to Clinton supporter Terry McAuliffe, made McCabe a punching bag for Republicans, who called him biased.
McCabe sought ethics counseling when he became deputy director in February 2016, which is when he first had any oversight into the Clinton email probe and well after his wife’s campaign ended.
Ironically, the media leak that McCabe would later mislead IG investigators about was for a negative Clinton story depicting internal DOJ tensions over investigating her. The story confirmed a separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
“Among the purposes of the disclosure was to rebut a narrative that had been developing following a story in the WSJ on October 23, 2016, that questioned McCabe’s impartiality in overseeing FBI investigations involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and claimed that McCabe had ordered the termination of the [Clinton Foundation] Investigation due to Department of Justice pressure,” the Inspector General said in its McCabe report.
Did A DOJ Official Feed Inappropriate Info To The Clinton Campaign?
The Inspector General is probing communications between Peter Kadzik and John Podesta, who have been friends since both were at Georgetown Law.
Wikileaks posted an email Kadzik, then a DOJ official, sent to Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s campaign, in May 2015, flagging an upcoming hearing where a DOJ official would be testifying and was “likely to get questions on State Department emails.” Kadzik also flagged a detail in a court document being filed in an emails-related FOIA case.
Ethics experts who are skeptical that Kadzik violated DOJ policies have pointed out that he wasn’t using his government email, and that he was highlighting only publicly available information.
Other DOJ/FBI Leaks During the Campaign
The announcement also said that the Inspector General is probing “[a]llegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.”
Clinton supporters have accused the FBI of leaking information about the investigations into her, with one report dubbing the FBI “Trumpland” for its Clinton hostility. There’s been some reporting that the leaks were coming from current or former federal investigators in New York, whom, it’s been speculated, have remained close to Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani himself bragged on Fox News that he had an advance warning from the FBI about the Comey letter to Congress.
An Interestingly Timed Clinton Foundation Records Release
A batch of FBI records related to President Trump’s father sought under the Freedom of Information Act was released October 30, while some FBI Clinton Foundation-related records were published on November 1, 2016. Their release was also promoted on an FBI Twitter account. The FBI records concerning the Clinton Foundation pertained to its investigation into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich — a probe closed in 2005. But the Clinton Foundation was also a political flashpoint for Hillary Clinton in her campaign.
The Twitter account that promoted their release had been dormant for more than a year before its reactivation the day before it tweeted the Clinton Foundation files. The Clinton campaign also said the timing was “odd” given there was no lawsuit deadline facing the FBI.
Absent a FOIA litigation deadline, this is odd.
Will FBI be posting docs on Trump’s housing discrimination in ’70s?https://t.co/uJMMzX6rtI
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) November 1, 2016
The FBI at the time said that the timing reflected “standard procedure for FOIA” in which records that requested three or more times are released publicly and processed on a “first in, first out” basis.
The day before the Clinton records tweet, the FBI Records Vault Twitter account also tweeted records related to Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father.