WASHINGTON ― It was a week before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and hockey fans in D.C. were watching the Washington Capitals take on the Chicago Blackhawks. The Justice Department’s top watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, was in the crowd at the Verizon Center when he received a disturbing call.
Just a day earlier, Horowitz’s office had announced that he would be examining the actions of Justice Department and FBI officials in connection with the investigation of Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. FBI Director James Comey’s handling of that investigation had come under intense scrutiny, with many Democrats blaming Comey for Clinton’s election defeat.
Now, on the evening of Jan. 13, Horowitz answered a call from Inspector General John Roth, his counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security. Roth told Horowitz that he’d just been informed by the head of the Trump transition team’s Homeland Security landing team that his job was temporary.
That Trump official “had assumed that I was already in the process of looking for another job,” Roth testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
Horowitz, who heads the independent Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, was surprised by the call. Although the inspectors general serve at the pleasure of the president, politics aren’t supposed to come into play in the selection of these watchdogs. There is a long tradition of inspectors general sticking around through a presidential transition, and they are expected to play a crucial role in the Trump era.
“I spoke with him from the game, then got word on two other IGs who had received calls that evening,” Horowitz said.
“We were trying to figure out what was going on here,” Horowitz testified Wednesday. “I think it’s fair to say everyone was concerned.”