More than 18 months have passed since the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department’s top watchdog to investigate whether the FBI abused its power to spy on Americans. Specifically, the panel wanted to know about the court approval the FBI got to electronically monitor -- for almost a year during and after the 2016 election -- a former Trump campaign adviser accused of being a “Russian agent.”
Senators sent a letter formally requesting the inquiry to Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz on Feb. 28, 2018. He is only now closing his probe of the critical matter and preparing a final report for the Senate.
Former inspectors general and department insiders say the long delay runs afoul of federal statutes mandating rapid turnaround of investigations of such “serious” matters. They complain Horowitz has a habit of "dragging out" his investigations and final reports, which has not kept with the spirit of regulations governing the tempo of IG action. These rules, they say, require Horowitz to report his findings "expeditiously.”
The officials point out that it’s not the first time Horowitz has made the public wait an exceedingly long period for inquiries Congress has ordered into the way former FBI Director James Comey handled highly sensitive election-year investigations. His review of the bureau’s controversial probe of classified emails Hillary Clinton transmitted through an unsecured, unauthorized server took almost as long — 17 months — to complete as the so-called FISA surveillance probe.
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Among those disappointed with the pace of Horowitz’s latest investigation is former State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, who expected the FISA findings last year. “The Inspector General Act of 1978 urges prompt action by an IG where serious matters are involved,” Krongard said, “which is particularly important and relevant to the present case.”
The rules also require IGs to report to Congress any "serious or flagrant abuses" uncovered “within seven calendar days” of discovering them.
Former inspectors general and FBI and other department insiders say the long delays in Horowitz's reports have allowed FBI Director Christopher Wray and other officials to, in turn, delay cooperation with investigative committees on the Hill.
Wray has argued he is limited in what he can testify about regarding the myriad problems at the FBI – and what action he can take internally – until the IG’s findings are released.
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also appeared to use the seemingly never-ending IG investigations as an excuse to continue to sit on long-sought documents and deny testimony, further frustrating congressional investigators. He cited Horowitz’s probes multiple times as the reason for declining to respond to legislators’ questions.
Horowitz declined to comment on the criticisms. While it is true that his high-profile probes are often complex undertakings involving subjects with influence who are no strangers to bureaucratic stonewalling, Horowitz has the power to issue subpoenas and an army of more than 450 investigators, auditors and support staff he can deploy to help move through such cases quickly.
The findings of Horowitz’s long-awaited inquiry into the bureau’s justification of wiretaps in the Trump-Russia affair are in draft form now and aren’t expected to be finalized for release to Congress and the public until sometime in October.
What’s the latest hold-up? Horowitz has furnished a draft copy to Wray so the FBI director can redact sections he thinks should be classified. Then the report was to go to Comey and other officials mentioned in it, to give them their own chance to make changes, reviewing it for “accuracy.”
Critics say Horowitz has acquiesced in the past to major bureau editing of his reports — including wholesale censorship.
Horowitz may also be wrestling with his own potential conflicts, as RealClearInvestigations details in a companion report[LINK to mainbar].
Tom Fitton, president of the Washington watchdog group Judicial Watch, points out that the longer it takes to get to the bottom of potentially criminal activity, the greater the odds that crimes will be pushed beyond the statute of limitations, where legal action may no longer be possible against guilty actors in the Justice Department and FBI.
“The political compromise of the DOJ and FBI during the Obama administration needs to be confronted immediately,” Fitton said.
Fitton maintains that too often in Washington, protecting the reputation of the institution overrides holding officials of the institution accountable. Although the IG has exposed some critical facts, Fitton said, his reports are “cover-ups at the same time.”