WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, will be in the spotlight on Monday when he releases his long-awaited report into the FBI’s probe into whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russian officials.
The report is expected to be a political lightning rod for Trump critics and his supporters alike, because it criticizes the FBI’s process, but supports the agency’s legal basis for launching the investigation, according to sources familiar with the findings.
Last week talk radio host Rush Limbaugh dubbed Horowitz a “deep stater,” a term some conservatives use to criticize federal employees whom they believe are disloyal to Trump.
Horowitz has spent much of his career trying to rise above politics, say former colleagues who describe him as a “straight shooter” who avoids ever talking about politics around the water cooler.
He cannot even pick favorites when it comes to baseball teams, several pointed out — he is an equal fan of the New York Yankees, one of his home state’s Major League teams, and his current hometown team, the Washington Nationals.
“I couldn’t even tell you what his politics are. He is completely fair, right down the middle,” said Rob Storch, the National Security Agency inspector general, who previously served as deputy inspector general at the Justice Department, and says he worked closely with Horowitz for more than five years.
Horowitz, 57, has handled deeply polarizing issues before becoming an inspector general, or IG. These officials are tasked with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. He declined a request for an interview.
Horowitz cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, where he investigated police corruption cases in the 1990s, said Lorin Reisner, who has known Horowitz more than 30 years. The two attended the same universities and were prosecutors in Manhattan together.
“Police investigations ... are politically challenging investigations because, first of all, you are investigating one of your own law enforcement partners,” said Reisner, now a partner with law firm Paul Weiss. “Michael was able to navigate it with gracefulness and respect.”
Like many top intelligence and law enforcement officials, Horowitz has incurred Trump’s wrath on Twitter.
In early 2018, Trump complained that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had directed Horowitz to probe the FBI’s process for obtaining a surveillance warrant of campaign adviser Carter Page, writing, “Isn’t the IG an Obama guy?”
Horowitz’s first presidential appointment came from Republican President George W. Bush, who tapped him in 2003 to serve a six-year term as a commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is responsible for crafting guidelines used to determine the length of prison terms.
He was appointed by Trump’s predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 to serve as inspector general of the Justice Department, a position that does not have any term limits.
Horowitz is not registered under any political party, according to a public records search.
He has donated on one occasion to a political candidate, a fellow former Justice Department colleague, Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.
A graduate of Brandeis University and Harvard Law School, Horowitz has also held several positions in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and was a partner with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
His wife is an independent television writer and producer who worked with anchor Lou Dobbs, now a conservative commentator, when Dobbs was with CNN in the 1990s. She left the network in 2002, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling isn’t the first controversial topic he has handled during the Trump administration.
In 2018, Horowitz sharply criticized here former FBI Director James Comey, saying in a 500-page report that Comey made a "serious error of judgment" when he decided to announce shortly before the 2016 presidential election that he was reopening an investigation into then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
At the same time, his report also cleared Comey of accusations by Trump and his critics that political bias allowed Clinton to escape criminal charges, and pushed the FBI to set its sights on the Trump campaign instead.
During the Obama administration, Horowitz released another high-profile report on an anti-gun trafficking effort known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” after congressional Republicans accused then-Attorney General Eric Holder of covering up wrongdoing.
The report found screwups of “systemic” scope that risked public safety, prompting two senior officials to leave the government, but cleared Holder.
He is currently the head of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an independent entity that essentially serves as a watchdog and advocate for the federal government’s dozens of inspector general offices.
“My honest view is he is the gold standard for (inspectors general),” added Storch. “He really does have a tremendous ability to be very balanced and fair.”
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis