The Justice Department’s review of alleged misconduct by then-FBI Director James Comey and others during the 2016 presidential election is almost finished, Justice’s top official watchdog told a House panel Wednesday.
“We are aiming to release the report in late winter/early spring — hopefully in that March/April time period,” Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said during a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing.
In the first public update on the work that has gone into the inquiry since he announced it in January, Horowitz said he’s gotten good cooperation from the Justice Department.
“In terms of process, we have gotten all the records we’ve asked for,” Horowitz said in response to a question from the House panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). “We’ve interviewed dozens of people … We’ve reviewed about 1.2 million records.”
Horowitz declined to get into any of the substance of the investigation, although he said some aspects of it are classified, which could create delays in disclosing the final report on the inquiry.
“We’re moving along quite expeditiously,” the inspector general said.
The inquiry also addresses election-season leaks from the FBI and the Justice Department.
In January, Horowitz announced a multi-faceted investigation into various issues related to the presidential race, including claims that Comey violated established procedures when he publicly discussed the bureau’s findings in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and when he sent Congress updates shortly before the election about new evidence agents had discovered.
The inquiry also addresses several other politically sensitive topics such as election-season leaks from the FBI and the Justice Department, as well as claims that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s judgment in the email probe and other matters may have been tainted by financial support his wife received in a state Senate race from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.), a longtime Clinton backer.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly raised concerns about many of the issues and cited some of them as grounds for his firing of Comey in May.
Horowitz has received a slew of requests from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to expand his probe to sweep in other controversies, including Trump’s firing of Comey, leaks of classified intelligence intercepts involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ compliance with his agreement to recuse from various election-related issues.
Hillary Clinton during the book tour of her memoir “What Happened” in New York | Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
The inspector general’s office has declined repeated requests for comment on whether he’s made any changes to his probe, but he said for the first time Wednesday that the request for an inquiry into Sessions’ recusal is essentially on hold because it appears to relate to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations that the Trump campaign had ties to Russian interests.
“One of the things we generally try and do is hold in abeyance any activity while there’s any ongoing FBI or in this case special counsel investigation,” Horowitz said in response a query from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “That’s what we’re doing here.”
Horowitz said it was his judgment that the request “relates to matters and could touch on that investigation,” although he did not say if he’d consulted with Mueller about the scope of his work.
A Mueller spokesman has declined to comment on deconflicting the special counsel’s work with the inspector general.
Horowitz stressed that it was still possible his office would take up Sessions’ recusal after Mueller’s work is complete. “We have not made a final decision on that,” the inspector general said.
In July, Horowitz offered a more vague response to lawmakers’ requests to expand the inquiry.
“We are continuing to assess what, if any, additional review would be appropriate for the OIG to undertake and will update you as appropriate,” the inspector general wrote in a letter first reported by POLITICO.
A source close to the investigation said in July that Horowitz had indicated to others that he hoped to complete the investigation by early 2018.
Under questioning from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on Wednesday, Horowitz said he did not think lawmakers should face any obstacle to receiving the same documents the inspector general’s office has obtained in its review, perhaps excluding evidence obtained through a grand jury.
“Any preexisting or other record in department custody, we would have no objection to providing” to Congress, the inspector general said. “I’m not aware of any such issues. Grand jury would be the obvious one.”
Comey said he welcomed the inspector general investigation into his decisions and vowed to cooperate with it.
Wednesday’s hearing featured testimony from three inspectors general actively involved in a council that advocates on behalf of the official watchdogs across the federal government.
Gowdy announced Tuesday that he was scheduled to meet privately with Horowitz on Tuesday afternoon.
A Democratic source said the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, was not invited to that session.
Gowdy and the inspectors general also discussed some challenges that could theoretically affect the election-related investigation, such as the fact that most of the watchdogs can’t make former employees testify.
“We cannot, once they leave the government, make them talk to us,” said Peace Corps Inspector General Kathy Buller.
Hillary Clinton speaks as Donald Trump listens during the town hall debate in St Louis, Missouri, in October 2016 ahead of the presidential election | Rick Wilking/Getty Images
“The ability to simply leave your place of employment and avoid scrutiny or having to provide information makes it really tough to conduct fulsome investigations,” Gowdy noted.
At a hearing just days before he was fired, Comey said he welcomed the inspector general investigation into his decisions and vowed to cooperate with it.
“Yes, I’ve been interviewed. The inspector general’s … looking at my conduct in the course of the email investigation, which—I know this sounds like a crazy thing to say—I encourage,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3.