WASHINGTON – Since the early days of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump and his allies have called for someone to "investigate the investigators."
Early last year, the president got some of what he wanted: The Justice Department's inspector general, an independent watchdog, announced a review into potential surveillance abuses by the FBI, focusing on the monitoring of Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Though Trump was unhappy that his attorney general at the time did not take up the matter himself, he nonetheless touted the inspector general's inquiry as "historic.” He suggested it would back up his long-held claim that the FBI perpetrated a “witch hunt” against him.
But as the release of the report draws near – it's due Monday – it appears the review will not be a life preserver for a president facing an impeachment inquiry.
Now Trump is hyping the promise of another investigation into the same territory. This one is overseen directly by Attorney General William Barr and federal prosecutor John Durham.
Two investigations into similar matters. One by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the office typically responsible for investigating wrongdoing at the Justice Department. The other, conducted by the Justice Department itself, into a department it oversees: the FBI.
At best, analysts say, the parallel investigations indicate a lack of trust in the inspector general's work. At worst, they say, it indicates a desire to reach a conclusion pleasing to the president.
Dueling inquiries often indicate an agency is "nervous about what the IG might find," said New York University law professor Paul Light, who studies the work of inspectors general. "Or there’s political pressure to come up with the finding other than what’s expected" from the inspector general.
An inspector general's investigation, "theoretically, is the gold standard of investigations,” Light said. “And Horowitz, in particular, has an impeccable reputation for telling it like (he) sees it.”
IG's report expected to conclude FBI was justified in launching Russia investigation
While Horowitz is expected to offer sharp criticism of the FBI in Monday's report, he's also expected to conclude the FBI was justified in launching its two-year inquiry into the Trump campaign and possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. That investigation ultimately led to Robert Mueller's damning account of Trump's efforts to thwart it.
But if Horowitz’s findings fail to satisfy Trump’s desires, the Barr-Durham inquiry has been building expectations of its own.
In late October, the president and his Republican allies seized on news that this inquiry had shifted from an administrative review to a criminal investigation.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that Barr had confided to associates that he disagreed with Horowitz's anticipated finding that the FBI's investigation was justified.
Asked about that, Trump immediately turned the spotlight to the Barr-Durham inquiry.
"I do think the big report to wait for is going to be the Durham report," Trump told reporters in London this week. "That’s the one that people are really waiting for."
Who will have the last word?
The attorney general cannot order the inspector general to alter his conclusions. But the Barr-Durham inquiry offers another opportunity for Trump to change the narrative.
"I can tell you that the inspector general will not have the last word," said former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served in the George W. Bush administration. "As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Durham has authority that the inspector general does not."
That includes the power to compel testimony from witnesses and to impanel a grand jury to consider criminal charges.
The FBI's surveillance authority, particularly whether it followed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in dealing with Page, is at the heart of the inspector general's report. That's also the subject of the Barr-Durham investigation.
Durham's investigators have been reviewing allegations that a former FBI lawyer altered a document related to Page's surveillance.
The inspector general provided information about the lawyer's alleged conduct to Durham, which is one reason his probe shifted from an administrative inquiry to a criminal one.
Though the two investigations overlap, they could reach different conclusions.
Horowitz is expected to conclude the lawyer's conduct did not change the legal basis for the Page wiretap request, while Durham's criminal investigation is continuing.
"You're talking about a scope of investigation that is potentially broader than what the inspector general can do," Mukasey said.
Trump: 'A hunger' for second inquiry
Parallel investigations aren't unprecedented, said former government officials who have worked in both Republican and Democrat administrations. But some suggest the two inquiries indicate that the Justice Department isn't looking for potential wrongdoing as much as it's looking for a politically expedient outcome.
"The modus operandi of this administration is that when they cannot dismiss somebody else's fact-based conclusions, they create a parallel narrative," said Joel Brenner, a former inspector general at the National Security Agency in the George W. Bush administration.
"What we are seeing here is the creation of a parallel narrative to satisfy the president's base of support," Brenner said. "It's very sad."
It's possible for inspectors general to pursue "agendas" of their own that may be inappropriate or flat-out wrong, Brenner said. "I just don't think that is remotely the case with Mr. Horowitz," he said.
Republican lawmakers, including Trump allies Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were among the earliest to urge Horowitz to review the FBI's handling of the Russia inquiry. And it was Jeff Sessions, Trump's first attorney general, who first confirmed that the inspector general would review the matter.
Even then, Trump claimed "potentially massive abuse" by the FBI and called for federal prosecutors to take up the matter. He publicly berated Sessions' decision to refer it to the inspector general rather than assign prosecutors.
Sessions, a frequent punching bag for the president, was later dismissed.
Less than two months after Barr took over as attorney general, he revealed he would launch a review of his own. He later announced he had chosen Durham to lead the inquiry.
"Spying on a campaign is a big deal," Barr told lawmakers during a provocative April appearance before a Senate panel. "I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated."
Trump immediately announced his support for Barr's action. "There is a hunger for this to happen," the president told reporters at the time.
Since then, Justice Department investigators have sought assistance from counterparts abroad, including those in the United Kingdom and Italy.
Does the second inquiry undermine the inspector general?
Greg Brower, a former FBI deputy general counsel who also worked as an inspector general, said it’s unusual for the head of an agency to pursue an investigation into something the agency's inspector general already is examining.
Agency leaders, he said, typically prefer to have their watchdogs “take the heat off management and do an independent review.”
“This is unfolding in an unusual way for many reasons,” Brower said of the parallel Barr-Durham probe. He said an investigation like it can undermine the inspector general, whose job is to conduct independent reviews of the agency.
"To the extent that it appears to the IG that management doesn’t trust it and wants to do its own parallel investigations ... that leaves any competent IG wondering why," Brower said.
“The cynical view of the Durham investigation," he said, "is that it exists simply to give the president something to talk about regardless of the outcome of the Horowitz investigation."
The Justice Department, in the wake of reports that Barr has expressed disagreement with Horowitz's findings, has offered public support for the inspector general.
"The inspector general’s investigation is a credit to the Department of Justice," spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said earlier this week. "His excellent work has uncovered significant information that the American people will soon be able to read for themselves."
'Being right is always more important than being fast'
Charles McCullough, a former inspector general for the intelligence community in the Obama administration, has little doubt that Horowitz will deliver an "exceedingly thorough" review.
But he sees nothing unusual about Durham's criminal investigation tracking much of the same territory, given the Justice Department's purview over criminal matters.
“I would expect there was some level of information-sharing going on," McCullough said. In fact, he said, that would be necessary to resolve potential conflicts of interest.
"You have to ensure that witnesses aren’t being interviewed over and over about the same things – you’re not duplicating work," McCullough said. Knowing Horowitz, "there would’ve been proper coordination."
McCullough and other colleagues of Horowitz said he has demonstrated a singular focus on the task and a knack for tuning out any outside political pressure.
“For Michael, being right is always more important than being fast," McCullough said. "Most good IGs will tell you that. ... You don’t get two shots. You can easily wreck your credibility as an IG if you publish something that’s wrong.”
In this case, the Trump administration will get at least two shots at the same target.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FISA report: IG probe into FBI may not match Trump's predictions