Inspector General Michael Horowitz '84 gets down to the facts with journalist Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward, Maura Jane Farrelly and Michael Horowitz participate in a June 11 Alumni Weekend event.

Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice Michael Horowitz '84 and legendary journalist Bob Woodward came together for a virtual discussion last week hosted by Brandeis that touched on transparency, truth and current events.

The two spoke for 90 minutes as part of a panel titled "Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability in the Post-Watergate Era: What Does the Truth Accomplish?" held June 11 as part of Alumni Weekend. The panel was moderated by associate professor of American studies Maura Jane Farrelly, and participants were introduced by Lewis Brooks '80, P'16 and Denise Silber Brooks '84, P'16.

The timing of the event was fortuitous — news had recently broken that Horowitz's office was being called on to investigate revelations that the Justice Department had seized records from Apple for metadata of House Intelligence Committee members in search of the sources behind news reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. The public did not learn about these actions at the time because of gag orders imposed by federal judges.

During Friday's event, Woodward — who rose to prominence covering the Watergate scandal as a Washington Post reporter — said it was outrageous that the government was "snooping" on sitting members of Congress, and that these actions were kept from the public.

"I just think on a scale of zero to 10, this approaches that 10 on the Richter scale of abuse of power," he said.

Probing such issues after the fact is the very purpose of the office of inspector general, Horowitz said.

"That's exactly why we're here. ... We're not the office that's in the middle of these investigations (as they happen)," he said. "We're the ones who have to look at them after they occur to figure out what happened and get the information out there."

Horowitz was appointed Inspector General of the Department of Justice by President Barack Obama in 2012. His office is responsible for conducting investigations into the actions of employees and programs within the Justice Department. The findings of these investigations are explained in detailed, often lengthy reports. The nature of the work often makes him an unpopular figure within the Justice Department, he said.

“I joke that I can clear out the lunchroom here if I want to get a sandwich at any point in time,” Horowitz said. “But there are times when people knock on our door because they're concerned about what happened.”

During his tenure, Horowitz has issued high profile reports on former FBI Director James B. Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 election, and a review of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane Investigation, which examined whether the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to surveil a member of the 2016 Trump campaign. Both reports tallied more than 500 pages.

"If you look at both of those hand in hand, I think both campaigns had legitimate complaints," Horowitz said of those cases. "One about how public the FBI director made one matter, and how secretly it held the other matter at the same time. The other campaign having the complaint ... that it was investigated using evidence that ultimately didn't stand the test of time and should not have been used the way it was used."

Inspector General reports aim to allow those involved to have their say, even if it is demonstrably untrue, and then lay out the facts, Horowitz said. This can be monotonous, but it is critical, he said.

"I think what we're most proud of in our report is, no matter how much 500 or 600 pages are picked apart and looked at, no one is out there saying we got the facts wrong," he said. "You might not agree with our conclusions, but, boy, they better not say we got the facts wrong."

Woodward said that journalists need to carry a similar expectation. He pointed to cable news stations that proudly advertise their political bias as evidence of a problem.

"We've got to somehow find a way to get out of the partisan labels," he said. "I don't think they serve us well. And I think there is an aura of pomposity, certainty, and smugness that people employ, particularly on television."

Horowitz also discussed the value of his education at Brandeis. He said it was the breadth of a liberal arts education, and an environment where people discussed and debated ideas that had the most profound impact on him.

“It was the first place where I heard contrary views to what I had grown up hearing as a kid,” he said. “To have that kind of discussion and to have it in a respectful way, was so important.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Brandeis Lawyers Alumni Network.

Watch the full event:

Categories: Alumni

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage