- Reuters/Aaron Bernstein
- DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told House Judiciary Democrats in a letter on Friday that the department did not consult his office before releasing text messages that are currently under OIG investigation to Congress and the press.
- The texts from 2016 were exchanged between former agents on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team who expressed disdain for then-candidate Donald Trump. They were obtained as part of an OIG investigation opened earlier this year.
- It is still unclear who authorized the decision, if not Horowitz.
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday that his office (OIG) was not consulted before private text messages that are currently under OIG investigation were shared with members of the media on Tuesday.
Horowitz told the committee – which had asked him in a previous letter whether the DOJ consulted his office before releasing the texts – that he testified in November that the OIG “had no objection to the department providing to Congress pre-existing Department records in its custody in response to a Congressional oversight request.”
He said he noted at the time “that the Department would need to determine whether there were any restrictions, such as those affecting grand-jury information, that limited its ability to produce certain records to Congress.
“I conveyed this position to the Department as well,” Horowitz said. “The Department did not consult with the OIG in order to determine whether releasing the text messages met applicable ethical and legal standards before providing them to Congress.”
In short, Horowitz wrote, the DOJ “did not consult with the OIG before sharing the text messages with the press.”
- REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Business Insider first reported on Wednesday that the DOJ had invited a group of reporters to its offices on Tuesday night to view private text messages sent during the 2016 campaign by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former investigators on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
The DOJ also shared those texts with key members of the House Judiciary Committee ahead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony the next day.
The texts, which expressed disdain for then-candidate Donald Trump, were obtained as part of an OIG investigation opened earlier this year into how the FBI handled the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent, was among those overseeing the Clinton investigation. He was removed from Mueller’s team of Russia investigators in late July after the texts were discovered.
Trump’s allies have seized on the texts, describing them as evidence that Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s election, including whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow, has been tainted.
DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores tweeted from her official account Friday night: “The letter released by the IG tonight is entirely consistent w my earlier tweets & DAG’s testimony,” Flores said, referring to Rosenstein’s Wednesday hearing.
“IG had no objection to release to Congress. We then consulted senior career legal/ethics experts to determine there were no issues w releasing texts to either Congress or press, ” Flores wrote. The OIG released another statement on Friday night that echoed the points Horowitz made in his letter.
It is true that the DOJ will sometimes give documents to reporters that it is already going to hand over to Congress. But it is not clear that the DOJ had ever released private text messages to the press that were the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of the Inspector General.
Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman under President Barack Obama, called it “appalling behavior by the department” and indicated it may have been a violation of the employees’ due-process rights.
“It is at least debatable whether it was appropriate to turn them over to the Hill in the middle of an ongoing investigation,” Miller said on Wednesday. “Under no circumstances was it appropriate to leak them to the press.”
Flores told Politico on Thursday that career ethics advisers “determined that there were no legal or ethical concerns, including under the Privacy Act, that prohibited the release of the information to the public either by members of Congress or by the department.”
But it is still unclear who authorized the decision, if not Horowitz.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell asked Rosenstein on Wednesday whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is recused from the Russia investigation, played any role in inviting the reporters over to the DOJ.
“Not to my knowledge,” Rosenstein replied.
Read Horowitz’s letter below: