WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's inspector general on Thursday announced a wide-ranging review of department activities — including those of FBI director James Comey — in the run-up to this past year's presidential election.
The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General is an independent entity created by law that is empowered to investigate misconduct within the Justice Department.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was confirmed to the position in 2012, announced the investigation eight days before Donald Trump's inauguration and the day after the confirmation hearings for Trump's nominee to be attorney general, Jeff Sessions, concluded.
The review will look into Comey's July 5, 2016, news conference about the recommendations the FBI made regarding its investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, as well as his letters of Oct. 28, 2016, and Nov. 6, 2016, regarding emails that had been discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop, as well as actions leading up to or related to those events and whether "underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations."
Additionally, the review will look into whether the FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, should have been recused from participating in certain matters. The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2016 that McCabe's wife, who had run for public office in Virginia, had received significant campaign support from Clinton's longtime ally, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The review also is to examine allegations regarding the Justice Department's Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, allegations of improper disclosure of non-public informations, and questions regarding the timing and manner of the FBI's release of certain documents relating to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The request notes that "if circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review."
FBI Director James Comey said in a statement that he was "grateful" for the review.
"He is professional and independent and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office," Comey said. "I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter."
Unlike many presidential nominees, inspectors general neither serve for a set term in office nor ordinarily leave office at the end of a president's term. Under the federal law regarding the inspector general, Horowitz will continue to serve until he steps down or its replaced by the president. If a president wishes to remove an inspector general, the president must send a letter to Congress 30 days before doing so, laying out reasons for the decision.
Notably, the law also provides exceptions to the total independence of the Justice Department's inspector general. In a section of the law that lays out "special provisions concerning the Department of Justice," it notes that the attorney general has the authority to stop an investigation by the inspector general if "necessary to prevent the disclosure" of information relating to "ongoing criminal investigations" or "intelligence or counterintelligence matters" or to "prevent the significant impairment to the national interests of the United States."
If the attorney general acts to stop an investigation under this provision, he or she must inform the inspector general in writing, laying out the reasons for doing so. The inspector general then must provide a copy of that letter to relevant congressional committees within 30 days.