DOJ watchdog threatened obstruction of justice investigation against Obama-era FBI

Michael Horowitz, Inspector general of the Justice Department, arrives at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, December 10, 2019, where he will testify about his office's report on the FBI's handling of the Russia investigation.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified Wednesday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on his findings. Graeme Jennings / <i>Washington Examiner</i>

DOJ watchdog threatened obstruction of justice investigation against Obama-era FBI

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New details on a fight and subsequent standoff inside the Obama-era FBI have come to light after new testimony from a top official.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz threatened to open an obstruction of justice investigation against the bureau’s senior lawyer amid a bitter battle over access to files, former FBI general counsel Jim Baker testified, according to Politico. Baker, who served as the FBI’s top lawyer from 2014 to 2017, left the bureau in 2018 and testified earlier in March in an unsuccessful wrongful termination lawsuit filed against him and the bureau. The new revelation about Horowitz threatening an obstruction investigation against an FBI lawyer came during the March civil trial.


The allegation stems from the Obama DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel siding with the FBI in 2015 when claiming the DOJ could withhold key information from the watchdog. Karl Thompson, then the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, penned a lengthy opinion in July 2015 that placed limitations on the DOJ inspector general’s ability to obtain information from the DOJ and the FBI, arguing that Horowitz needed to get permission from DOJ officials before gaining access to key information, such as grand jury records or wiretap details.

However, Congress soon passed a law strengthening the inspector general’s powers to obtain information from the FBI and the DOJ more broadly. “I strongly disagree with the OLC opinion,” Horowitz said at the time. “Congress meant what it said when it authorized Inspectors General to independently access ‘all’ documents necessary to conduct effective oversight.”

Horowitz declined to comment to Politico on the claim he threatened to open an investigation into a senior lawyer during the feud.

President Barack Obama signed the Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016 in December of that year after a bipartisan push from Congress.

Horowitz went on to conduct investigations into the FBI’s handling of two major inquiries — one into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when handling classified information and the Trump-Russia investigation. The report found problems with the FBI’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia but also concluded that there was a proper basis for opening the investigation and that it was free of political bias. However, it identified problems that are “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said after its release.


Horowitz concluded in June 2018 that the anti-Trump and pro-Clinton messages from Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Kevin Clinesmith, and other FBI employees “brought discredit to themselves” while harming the bureau’s reputation and sowing doubt on the impartiality of the FBI’s Clinton emails investigation. Page worked in the FBI office of general counsel and for since-fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. She left the FBI in May 2018 and sued the DOJ in December 2019 over her anti-Trump texts with fired FBI special agent Strzok, with whom she had an extramarital affair, being made public.

The new report comes after Baker also testified this month that his predecessor as the FBI’s top lawyer, Andrew Weissmann, was the source of “negativity” and a culture of mistrust at the FBI when he took over.

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