Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said Wednesday that he referred former FBI Director James B. Comey for criminal prosecution this year after concluding he leaked sensitive materials to a friend.
And the Justice Department watchdog told Congress he would “assess” Republican allegations of inconsistent statements in Mr. Comey’s testimony before the Senate.
Mr. Horowitz’s disclosure that he made the criminal referral marks his first public statement about the criticism lodged against Mr. Comey in a report released last summer. He told lawmakers it is standard practice to make a criminal referral when wrongdoing is suspected.
“We are required by the [Inspector General] Act to send information that we’ve identified that could plausibly be criminal to the Department of Justice,” Mr. Horowitz said.
The Justice Department ultimately decided not to prosecute Mr. Comey despite the conclusion by Mr. Horowitz’s team that he improperly leaked information to the news media. The documents leaked by Mr. Comey were sensitive but not classified.
Mr. Comey in May 2017 asked a law professor friend to share with The New York Times a memo detailing his conversations with President Trump to pressure the Justice Department to open an investigation of the president.
In a report released last month, Mr. Horowitz wrote that the former FBI director “set a dangerous example” when he shared the memos to push the Justice Department to act.
Testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the Justice Department watchdog said Mr. Comey’s behavior was worrisome.
“Our concern was empowering FBI directors or, frankly, any FBI employee with the authority to decide they are not going to follow established norms and procedures because, in their view, they’ve made a judgment that the individuals they are dealing with can’t be trusted,” he said.
When asked if Mr. Comey’s holding the highest position in the bureau added to his concern, Mr. Horowitz confirmed it had.
Rep. Jody Hice, Georgia Republican, called Mr. Horowitz’s revelation of the criminal referral of Mr. Comey “monumental.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, asked Mr. Horowitz if he would look into allegations Mr. Comey was inconsistent during Senate testimony. Mr. Meadows said he believes there were “a number” of times when the ex-FBI director’s testimony did not match revelations included in the inspector general report.
For example, Mr. Meadows said the then-FBI director denied opening an obstruction of justice probe based on comments Mr. Trump made to him. But Mr. Horowitz’s team found Mr. Comey leaked memos of his conversations with the president to get a special counsel appointed.
“I’m finding just a number of irregularities,” Mr. Meadows said. “So would it be appropriate if ranking member Jordan and I were to refer those inconsistencies to the IG and if we did that, would the IG look at those inconsistencies?”
Mr. Horowitz said he would look into the matter.
“It is certainly appropriate for us to get a referral about a then-employee of the department and then we would assess it,” he said.
When asked if he knew of another FBI director referred for criminal prosecution, Mr. Horowitz said he did not.
Mr. Horowitz also fielded a few questions about his upcoming investigation into alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses by the Justice Department and FBI. He revealed little about his findings, which are expected to be released this month.
The FBI and Justice Department are reviewing his conclusions, Mr. Horowitz said, adding they will decide how much of his findings will be classified.
“That is normal process,” he said.