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DOJ Watchdog's Clinton Report Expected to Reignite Battle Over FBI Probes


The inspector general’s report looked at actions taken by Justice Department and FBI officials during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

The inspector general’s report looked at actions taken by Justice Department and FBI officials during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.


Photo:

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

The Justice Department’s in-house watchdog is set to release on Thursday afternoon its long-awaited report on the FBI’s handling of the 2016 investigation into

Hillary Clinton’s

use of a private email server, an event certain to fuel a renewed fight over the bureau’s handling of politically sensitive probes of Mrs. Clinton and President

Donald Trump.

The report is set to be released at 2 p.m. Eastern time, while Mr. Trump and members of Congress will receive briefings earlier in the day. The document, expected to run as long as 500 pages, will provide a detailed examination of actions taken by top leaders of the Justice Department and FBI in the high-profile email probe, according to people familiar with its contents.

The review is expected to sharply criticize former FBI Director

James Comey

and other top Justice Department officials for how they handled the Clinton investigation, the people said.

The report is sure to provide new fodder for Mr. Trump’s verbal and

Twitter

assaults on Mr. Comey and other Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General

Loretta Lynch

and former Deputy FBI Director

Andrew McCabe.

Democrats say Mr. Comey’s actions, especially his unusual public comments on the Clinton probe, helped Mr. Trump and may even have led to his election victory.

Mr. Trump’s initial rationale for firing Mr. Comey in May 2017 was his handling of the Clinton investigation, specifically his public comments about it. The president later said the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election also played a role in the decision.

Deputy Attorney General

Rod Rosenstein,

who oversees the Russia probe and has also drawn the president’s ire, is slated to brief Mr. Trump in the hours before the report is published.

Inspector General

Michael Horowitz’s

office said sharing the report early with the president and Congress was appropriate, noting that it regularly provides the report to the Justice Department before its public release, and sometimes briefs journalists and lawmakers as well.

“For the Justice Department to brief the White House in the same manner and at the same time as the [Office of the Inspector General] briefs Congress and the press is consistent with this process, and has occurred in connection with prior OIG reports,” the office said in a statement. “No changes are made to the OIG’s report on account of these briefings.”

The release, and a hearing on the report by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, is certain to add fuel to the political battle over how the FBI and Justice Department have handled sensitive investigations.

Mr. Trump and his supporters regularly complain that federal investigators were easy on Mrs. Clinton and tough on him; Democrats, and some Republicans, say these allegations are baseless attempts to derail the Russia probe, which is also investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow in the Kremlin’s effort to interfere with the U.S. election.

The probe, now led by special counsel

Robert Mueller,

is also looking into whether the president sought to obstruct justice by, among other actions, firing Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion and denies obstructing the probe; Moscow has denied interfering in the election.

The inspector general’s report will delve into the Clinton investigation from its launch through Mr. Comey’s July 2016 news conference, in which he said Mrs. Clinton had been “extremely careless” with national secrets but that he was recommending against charging her, the people said.

It will also examine the FBI’s decision to reopen the Clinton inquiry days before the 2016 election. Mrs. Clinton and Democrats have argued that Mr. Comey’s July briefing was inappropriate and that his October disclosure likely cost her the election.

The individuals scrutinized in the report have viewed portions of it and provided the inspector general with responses, which will be incorporated into the final version.

Mr. Horowitz announced in January 2017 that his office would examine, among other issues, whether Mr. Comey followed agency policies when he held his press conference about the Clinton probe on July 5, 2016, and when he sent letters alerting Congress to the reopening and subsequent closing of the Clinton investigation.

Mr. Horowitz said at the time that he would examine whether “certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations.” In its 17-month-long investigation, Mr. Horowitz’s office has scrutinized whether bias infected the Clinton investigation in a meaningful way, people familiar with his probe say.

The inspector general is expected to examine such questions as whether Ms. Lynch should have met with former President

Bill Clinton

on an airport tarmac while the Justice Department was investigating Mrs. Clinton, and whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the probe since a Clinton ally had donated to his wife’s political campaign.

Mr. Trump has recently expressed impatience with the matter, tweeting, “What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey.” He added, “There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!”

Mr. Horowitz’s office, at the request of Mr. Trump and other Republicans, is also examining aspects of the Russia probe and whether it has been conducted in a bias-free manner. That is a separate investigation and those conclusions won’t be covered in the report.

Write to Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com and Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

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