The U.S. Justice Department's internal watchdog is set Thursday to release a long-awaited report on the FBI's handling of its investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, a probe that played a pivotal role in her unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign against Donald Trump.
Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz's inquiry has focused on the performance of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who four months before the election publicly cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing in her handling of classified material in her emails, even as he said she had been "extremely careless." Then, less than two weeks before the November vote, he reopened the investigation after discovering a new cache of emails before clearing her a second time two days before the election.
Clinton has said that Comey's late reopening of the investigation played a role in her upset loss to Trump, coming at a time when pollsters were predicting she would win and many voters were making up their minds whom to vote for. Some Democratic critics of Comey say he violated Justice Department rules by publicly announcing so close to the election that he was reopening the probe.
Comey continued as FBI director into Trump's presidency, leading the agency's investigation of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interests. Trump abruptly fired him four months into his administration.
Aside from investigating the Russian interference in the election, special counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey after failing, Comey has said, to get him to pledge his loyalty to Trump and publicly exonerate the president.
Trump and the White House have given several explanations for Comey's dismissal, including his handling of the Clinton investigation. However, days after he ousted Comey, Trump said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he decided to dismiss him. Trump has many times said he views Mueller's investigation as an excuse by Democrats to explain Clinton's unexpected loss. He has denied collusion with the Russians and obstructing justice.
Trump allies are hopeful that the 18-month-long Horowitz investigation will give new credence to their claims that the president was justified in firing Comey because of the way he handled the Clinton investigation and that some key FBI officials were politically biased against Trump, leading to their decision to clear Clinton of wrongdoing.
Last week, Trump expressed concern about the report and the length of time it was taking to complete.
"What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey," Trump tweeted. "Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!"
Despite Trump's frequent complaints about the FBI, Democrats have attacked the FBI for not publicly acknowledging during the months before the election that it also was investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
The FBI rarely publicly announces its actions in investigations, as Comey did twice related to the Clinton probe. He has said he did so because of the importance of the investigation and its link to the presidential campaign.