DOJ inspector general, set to release major report on FBI's Russia investigation, spent years prosecuting corrupt officials

Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The scandal in the New York Police Department's 30th Precinct  brought down a number of corrupt officers who sold drugs they confiscated, sometimes to the same dealers they took them from.

Thirty officers pleaded guilty or were convicted by juries in the 1990s. The "Dirty 30" became one of the biggest police corruption cases in New York City history. It's a reminder that sometimes, criminals wear a badge.

The federal prosecutor responsible for many of those convictions was Michael Horowitz. Now he's the Department of Justice's inspector general, a key player in one of the most politically charged investigations in Washington.

Monday, Horowitz's office will release a long-awaited report on whether the FBI conducted illegal surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide. President Donald Trump and his allies contend the FBI improperly spied on the campaign.

Horowitz is expected to offer sharp criticism of the FBI, but his report is also expected to conclude the bureau was justified in launching its two-year inquiry into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Horowitz spent several years prosecuting police officers and other government officials who abused their power. His former co-workers say that prepared him to conduct some of the most politically controversial, high-stakes investigations in the country.

In an interview with former Newsday columnist Leonard Levitt, Horowitz explained how prosecutors broke the blue wall of silence and pushed cops to inform on fellow officers. 

"Cops won't volunteer anything. You have to let them know you aren't bluffing," Horowitz, then a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in "NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force." 

"You have to know where their bank accounts are, where they've hidden their money," Horowitz said. "Then you have to let them know you have the goods." 

As one of the most powerful investigators of the investigators in Washington, those who know and have worked for Horowitz say he stays focused on the facts, no matter how politically unpopular they are.

"I don't believe I ever knew what his political affiliation was. ... I never asked. He didn't know what mine was and he never asked. It didn't matter," said Charles McCullough,  the intelligence community's inspector general under the Obama administration.

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Horowitz, who declined to be interviewed, has spent nearly two years examining the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page, at the time a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. The bureau was investigating whether the campaign coordinated with Russia to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The FBI, Trump and practically everyone with a political agenda has a stake in Horowitz's report. 

The FBI has been under attack by the president and his allies since it launched the investigation. Trump has claimed for three years that a cabal of top law enforcement officials, driven by political bias, conspired against him.

Democrats are looking to see how the report affects their momentum as they draft articles of impeachment against Trump.

"Whatever comes out, they will never have a legitimate argument that (Horowitz) didn't do the right thing," said Marietta Robinson, a Michigan lawyer and longtime friend.

'Not a "gotcha" IG'

Horowitz, 57, was born in New York City. His father owned a company that made women's clothing. His mother owned an antiques store. 

He graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis University and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. 

As a young attorney, he clerked for U.S. District Judge John Davies in California. He spent eight years as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, where he led the Public Corruption Unit.

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Aside from the "Dirty 30" case, Horowitz led an investigation into immigration officials who accepted more than $100,000 in bribes in return for issuing green cards. 

Horowitz moved to Washington, where he became a high-ranking Justice Department attorney under Republican and Democratic appointees.

In 2011, President Barack Obama nominated him as inspector general for the Justice Department. Horowitz left a lucrative job at a law firm and started in 2012.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Horowitz described his years as a public corruption prosecutor in New York, where his work didn't always endear him to colleagues. 

“Particularly when we were arresting law enforcement officers who were working on cases in our own office with other units,” Horowitz said. “But I wasn’t interested in winning popularity contests. … I was instructed by the U.S. Attorney to doggedly pursue corruption, to be independent of the other units in the office, and that’s precisely what I did.”

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As inspector general, Horowitz approaches his job like a fair-minded prosecutor who puts himself in the shoes of the people he's investigating, McCullough said. 

"He looks at things holistically. He's not a 'gotcha' IG. He's not a Monday-morning quarterback," McCullough said. 

McCullough, an Obama appointee, received blowback from Clinton allies in 2016 after he told lawmakers he believed there was classified material in several dozen emails Clinton exchanged as secretary of state and stored on a private server.

McCullough said he was also criticized by fellow inspectors general who were supportive of Clinton. "But not Michael," he said. "Michael is all about process. He's nonpartisan."

Co-workers say Horowitz's record shows he's nonpartisan

In early 2018, Trump questioned why Horowitz should be the one to investigate the FBI's conduct during the Russia probe. 

"Isn't the IG an Obama guy? the president tweeted. "Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!"

Former co-workers point out that Horowitz has served under Republican and Democratic presidents. They say he can handle politically controversial investigations, like his inquiry into Fast and Furious, a botched Obama-era gun-trafficking operation. 

A report released by Horowitz's office in 2012 portrayed a dysfunctional group of investigators and departments that allowed about 2,000 firearms to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.

Horowitz did not conclude that the Justice Department's top leadership knew about the blunders, but he recommended disciplinary action against 14 federal law enforcement officials.

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In a scathing report last year, Horowitz rebuked former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Clinton email investigation, but he found no evidence of political bias.

"His leadership has been, let's do the right thing," said Cynthia Schnedar, who was Horowitz's deputy during the Fast and Furious investigation. "Let's investigate fairly but also honestly and accurately and call the shots as the facts are."

Horowitz has two portraits of former attorneys general in his office, according to former colleagues. One is a portrait of William H. H. Miller, who became attorney general in 1889 and left office with his reputation intact. The other is Harry M. Daugherty, who was forced to resign in 1924 amid a bribery scandal.

"Michael would frequently comment on how he had both of these portraits on each side of his desk," said Rob Storch, Horowitz's former deputy and current inspector general of the National Security Agency. "I think the general concept was it covered the gamut of behavior by public officials."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Horowitz: IG report on FISA, Russia probe to be released