The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is launching a broad review of how the FBI handled its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
The review’s scope includes allegations that FBI Director James Comey violated established procedures when he publicly discussed the bureau’s findings and when he sent Congress updates shortly before the election about new evidence agents had discovered.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced in a statement Thursday that his investigation will also explore whether FBI and Justice Department employees improperly leaked information prior to the election.
Clinton and aides on her Democratic presidential campaign have blamed Comey’s pre-election revelation that he was reviving the email investigation as a key factor in her narrow loss to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
A statement from Horowitz’s office said he was initiating the inquiry "in response to requests from numerous Chairmen and Ranking Members of Congressional oversight committees, various organizations, and members of the public."
Comey said he welcomes Horowitz’s probe.
"I am grateful to the Department of Justice’s IG for taking on this review. He is professional and independent and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office," Comey said in a statement. "I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said White House officials had no involvement in the decision to launch the review.
"This administration has assiduously protected the independence of inspectors general, so we wouldn’t weigh in publicly or privately," he said.
An FBI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the review.
Clinton allies, who have accused Comey of repeatedly ignoring Justice Department policies about comments on investigations, hailed the news.
"My reaction is that it’s entirely appropriate and very necessary but also not surprising," former Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon told MSNBC. "Because the deviations from the protocols at the FBI and the Justice Department were so glaring and egregious in terms of their handling of not just the email investigation into Secretary Clinton but just in general, the amount of leaks that were coming from the FBI throughout the election and even post-election, is something that…I think most observers and former officials at the Justice Department realized cried out for an independent review."
Comey has said he delivered his July briefing on the FBI’s findings in the Clinton email probe without coordinating his statement with Justice Department leaders. He’s defended his statement as appropriate given the public’s questions about the handling of such a high-profile, politically-charged inquiry.
However, some Justice Department officials complained that his actions violated the usual practice of saying little about an investigation being closed without charges. Clinton allies also faulted Comey for publicly lambasting Clinton for being "extremely careless" with classified information, even as he said criminal charges were unwarranted.
Justice Department officials also opposed Comey’s decision to notify Congress in October that newly-discovered evidence was being reviewed in connection with the email investigation. He sent Congress another letter three days before the election saying the newly-found emails, discovered on a laptop belonging to the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide, had not altered the FBI’s decision that no prosecution of Clinton was appropriate.
Clinton aides say the disclosures, regardless of the details, stirred up the email controversy days before the election and led undecided moderate, suburban voters in key swing states to cast their ballots for Trump.
In addition to the Clinton email investigation, it appears the new inspector general review will examine other Clinton-related matters the FBI worked on before the election, including preliminary inquiries into alleged misconduct at the Clinton Foundation.
Horowitz’s statement alludes to claims by some FBI agents that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from decisions on those matters because his wife, Jill McCabe, ran for the Virginia state senate as a Democrat in 2015 with backing from Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is a longtime friend of the Clintons and has worked closely with the Clinton Foundation.
While the review will be welcomed by many Democrats, Horowitz also plans to explore some allegations Republicans would like to see pursued: claims that Justice’s top legislative affairs official, Peter Kadzik, "improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters."
Some emails published by WikiLeaks show Kadzik using a personal email account to communicate with Clinton campaign chief John Podesta about upcoming action in Freedom of Information Act lawsuits related to Clinton.
One Republican, however, said the investigation was not broad enough, protesting the Horowitz did not plan to investigate the role played by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who became the subject of controversy after her tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton just days before Comey made his initial recommendation public.
“It’s good to hear that the Inspector General agreed to my request to look at multiple concerns that I raised throughout the investigation," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said in a Thursday statement. "Conspicuously absent, though, is any specific reference to the Attorney General’s failure to recuse herself from the probe, particularly after her meeting with former President Clinton. It’s in the public interest to provide a full accounting of all the facts that led to the FBI and Justice Department’s decision-making regarding the investigation.”
Horowitz, an Obama appointee, is expected to remain in his job into the Trump administration.
Madeline Conway and Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.