"What is taking so long with the Inspector General's Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey," tweeted President Donald Trump earlier this week. "Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!"
The probe to which Trump is referring, covering the actions of then FBI Director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe, among others, during the 2016 election, is not yet finalized -- although details about its findings have begun to leak out.
Report CNN's Laura Jarrett and Evan Perez: "The exhaustive review of a momentous period in the department's history is expected to criticize Comey's handling of the investigation at key junctures for violating departmental norms. Of particular focus are the events leading up to his decision to announce in July 2016, without Justice Department approval, that "no reasonable prosecutor" would recommend charges against Clinton, as well as the decision to tell lawmakers days before the November 2016 election that FBI agents had recovered additional emails possibly relevant to the investigation."
For more context on the basis for the IG report -- as well as what it might say -- I reached out to Josh Campbell, a CNN contributor and former career FBI agent who also served as special assistant to Comey.
Cillizza: Start simple. Who is the inspector general at Justice and what is the job description?
Campbell: Understanding federal government agencies should not have the power to police themselves, President Jimmy Carter signed a law in 1978 establishing inspectors general at various government agencies, with the responsibility of ensuring government employees act legally and ethically. The Department of Justice IG has broad powers to review the actions at Justice and its component agencies (like the FBI), recommend administrative sanctions when necessary, and even refer incidents for criminal prosecution if employees are believed to have broken the law.
The DOJ Inspector General is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The president has the power to fire an inspector general at any time, so long as he notifies Congress of his rationale for doing so. The current DOJ IG is Michael Horowitz, a career public servant who has held appointed positions under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He is widely known throughout the FBI as someone who is extremely tough, but equally fair in administering justice.
Cillizza: Walk me through how we got here.
Campbell: A lifetime ago -- back in January 2017 -- IG Horowitz announced that he was opening an investigation into the FBI's handling of the Clinton investigation after receiving several requests to do so from congressional leaders, watchdog organizations, and members of the public. In addition to specifying the above investigative topics, he left open the notion that he would follow up on any new allegations of wrongdoing uncovered during the course of the investigation.
Cillizza: And what, exactly, is being investigated?
Campbell: Well first, the bad news for entrenched partisans on the left or right hoping this report is going to incriminate either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: not gonna happen.
The DOJ Inspector General is not re-litigating evidence in the Clinton case in order to determine whether [the former Secretary of State] should have been prosecuted, nor is the IG working to determine whether Trump's campaign was colluding with the Russians. Instead, this report is all about the actions DOJ and FBI officials took during the course of investigating Clinton's use of a private email server.
Cillizza: The report isn't final yet but we assume it's coming soon. What do we expect the IG will find?
Campbell: The IG investigation has operated largely in secret, making it difficult to predict what he will specifically find, but I predict the IG report will likely fault Comey for his decision to step outside the DOJ chain of command by unilaterally announcing in July 2016 that Clinton would not be prosecuted.
Comey might also be ridiculed for re-opening the Clinton case just before the 2016 election after new Clinton emails were discovered on a laptop belonging to disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and then closing the case days before the election, thereby violating a DOJ norm that the department refrain from taking any investigative actions that might influence an election. For his part, Comey has indicated he saw the decision as not one between action or inaction, but, rather, as choosing between speaking out to inform Congress that Clinton was once again under investigation, or concealing this information from the American people. The public will have to decide which course of action was the least bad option.
Although not part of the IG's original scope, we have since learned in congressional testimony from Comey that he memorialized his interactions with Trump in various memos, and shared the content of at least one of them with the press after he was fired. The IG will no doubt also review Comey's handling of his memos, in order to determine whether he did anything wrong in sharing them.
We can also expect the IG to weigh in on Attorney General Loretta Lynch's controversial meeting on an airplane with former President Clinton -- the spouse of someone under criminal investigation -- and whether DOJ leadership acted appropriately vis---vis allegations that information may have been shared with the Clinton campaign. And speaking of leaks, the IG will also likely conduct an exhaustive review into whether the FBI itself leaked information to the media.
Then there is the issue of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI employees whose text messages have served as fodder for those claiming the FBI politicized the Clinton investigation and worked to hurt the campaign of Trump. The "slow bleed" of these text messages, publicly released in batches by congressional oversight committees, has caused great damage to the FBI's reputation, and it will be up to the IG to identify whether they were simply the snarky personal communications of two employees engaged in an extramarital affair, or whether they actually provide evidence of serious improper political influence on the FBI's investigative work.
[Note: Trump tweeted about Strzok and Page on Tuesday: "Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015. SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!"]
Cillizza: So, how does this end -- and when?
Campbell: The next steps will largely depend on whether the IG merely points out perceived wrongdoing that must be corrected inside DOJ and the FBI, or whether he actually recommends criminal charges against department employees found culpable of potentially breaking the law. Thus far, we have learned that the IG has referred former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for possible prosecution after he reportedly lied to IG investigators, and we will have to stay tuned to see whether others are added to that list.
Finally, there is the issue of what President Trump has deemed "Spygate" -- the baseless claim that the FBI placed an informant in his campaign for political purposes. Following Trump's demands that DOJ look into the matter, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein quickly punted the issue to the DOJ IG to investigate. These incendiary allegations have since been swatted down by congressional officials on both sides of the political aisle, but it still might lead to yet another IG report on the horizon.