Investigation Nation: Why Scrutiny on the Mueller Probe is Par for the Course

Last week, Attorney General William Barr appointed a special prosecutor to investigate intelligence and surveillance used during the Russian probe. Barr’s appointed prosecutor will work independently from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is also performing its own investigation. With so much scrutiny surrounding the Russian probe, which concluded in March, we had to wonder: are these subsequent investigations par for the course? We asked AINS Investigations expert Will Fitzgerald to provide insight on the nature of the recent OIG proceedings.

“Each agency’s OIG is free and independent of the agency it serves, and it is certainly standard practice for OIGs to investigate their own employees,” Fitzgerald says. “The OIG is given the right to investigate fraud, waste or abuse done by one of their own employees. There may be special cases where joint agency cooperation is required, but even in these cases, the OIG for which the fraud, waste or abuse was committed against will always take the lead in the investigation.”

This is to say, it is completely normal for the OIG to investigate proceedings of the Department of Justice (DOJ), including investigations themselves. While all fraud, waste or abuse in the Russian probe is only alleged at this point, OIG investigations are needed to figure out if any of these allegations are true. But what about cases that are as high profile as the Russian probe? Do they follow any special rules, or at least take on higher priority? Not necessarily, says Fitzgerald.

“Most investigations follow the evidence as opposed to a standard set of procedures,” he says. “Of course, there are many actions or documentations that will be consistent across all investigations, and there are some other factors that may change the standards followed by the investigative team. For example, if a case is going to be presented to a grand jury, the investigative team will take additional precautions to protect documentation presented to the Grand Jury.”

So, the OIG investigation into the Russian probe may have some differences from other OIG investigations, but not many. Whether or not the current investigations take as long as the probe, which lasted for nearly two years, remains to be seen. “Investigations do not follow any mandated timeline,” notes Fitzgerald.

Scrutiny surrounding the Russian probe was to be expected. One could even argue that the heightened scrutiny and allegations of potential wrongdoing should have been expected, as well. This implies that Robert Mueller would have taken extra precautions to carefully document his tracks in the Russian probe. Such actions can be done by thoroughly documenting all investigative proceedings and adhering strictly to compliance law. With the right investigative software, like eCase Investigations, rising above scrutiny is easy.

Once investigations are closed and properly-documented, OIGs can release their findings to the public through a Report of Investigation. A report can be helpful, notes Fitzgerald, because it “gives anyone the opportunity to contest that an investigation was done properly and impartially.” The more transparent an investigation is, the less scrutiny it will ultimately invite. This includes investigations as high-profile as the Russian probe.

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