Justice Watchdog Will Lead Probe Requested By Trump

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 5:05 am
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Now we have the story of a man with a delicate job. Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the Justice Department - he's been asked a follow up on demands by President Trump. The president used a privilege available to nobody else, ordering that the people investigating matters relating to him must be investigated. His demand on Sunday promoted a narrative questioning how the FBI learned about Russian interference in the presidential campaign. Rather than refuse that order or directly comply, DOJ officials handed the job to Horowitz, who was already investigating the handling of Hillary Clinton's emails. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the inspector general's career.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: It was called Blue Thunder, cops who belonged to an elite drug enforcement unit in New York City in the early 1990s - except some of them broke bad, stealing money and dealing drugs themselves.

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MICHAEL HOROWITZ: You can't have people with badges and guns going around when you know what they're doing.

JOHNSON: That's Michael Horowitz. He's the man who prosecuted some of those dirty police officers. Horowitz and his colleagues moved to take three of those cops into custody. The move didn't make him any friends, Horowitz recalled years later.

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HOROWITZ: The work in the corruption unit wasn't always popular, particularly when we were arresting law enforcement officers who were working on cases in our own office with other units.

JOHNSON: Mary Jo White was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan in that era. She promoted Horowitz to run the Public Corruption Unit in her office. It was a big job, just like the one he has now as Justice Department inspector general, White says.

MARY JO WHITE: I can't imagine anyone better than Mike Horowitz to be tasked with the very difficult job he's now tasked with. And I think the public should have, you know, complete confidence in the integrity of the job he'll do.

JOHNSON: Earlier this year, Horowitz was the subject of a tweet from President Trump who called him an Obama guy. Horowitz was nominated by President Obama to be the inspector general in 2012, but he has a long and nonpartisan work history. Republican Michael Chertoff was Horowitz's boss in the George W. Bush administration.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: So he's worked for both Republicans and Democrats. I've never seen any political issue enter into his calculus. I can't even tell you what he's registered as, to be honest.

JOHNSON: Horowitz served as Chertoff's chief of staff at the Justice Department after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Horowitz helped coordinate efforts to find out if anyone who helped the attackers was still at large. And he helped set up the task force that convicted senior leaders of the Enron Corporation after that energy company went bust. Again, Michael Chertoff.

CHERTOFF: He's a very cool customer. He has a good sense of humor. He's smart. He has a lot of experience. And he doesn't get rattled.

JOHNSON: That helps when you're the top watchdog at a sprawling department like Justice. Glenn Fine is now acting IG at the Defense Department. He knows Horowitz and served as IG at Justice himself for 11 years.

GLENN FINE: It's a challenging but important job that has oversight over the entire Department of Justice, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, main Justice, the Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

JOHNSON: In other words, Fine says, a lot.

FINE: The key is to provide objective, independent, credible oversight over the Justice Department.

JOHNSON: Friends say Horowitz knew he was stepping into a minefield when he launched an investigation into how the FBI and Justice Department acted during the 2016 presidential campaign. But they say he felt he had to respond to demands from Congress to dig into why former FBI Director Jim Comey may have violated department policy by talking about the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The inspector general probe has already contributed to a big shake-up at the FBI. Horowitz's former boss Mary Jo White says that comes with the territory.

WHITE: You know, there are painful consequences to the truth, you know, at times.

JOHNSON: This week, Horowitz took on new responsibilities. He'll investigate whether anyone at DOJ improperly surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016. But Horowitz's colleagues say he knows how to manage investigations that are politically sensitive. At his confirmation hearing to be inspector general, Horowitz offered this guide to his work.

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HOROWITZ: The message we had was - you make the decisions; you follow the evidence in the law; you do so with impartiality. And the results are the results. Wherever the chips fall, they fall.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOS DEF'S "MATHEMATICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.