RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the legal battle between Republican lawmakers and the U.S. attorney general over access to documents in a gun-running sting gone wrong could take months, if not years, to resolve. But one man has already been sifting through secret emails about the operation known as Fast and Furious. He's Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's new watchdog. NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Justice Department's new Inspector General has been on the job for only three months. But Michael Horowitz is no stranger to touchy subjects. He made his name in New York prosecuting corrupt police officers in the city's 30th Precinct, known as the Dirty 30, recalls former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.

MARY JO WHITE: You know, he ended up, at the end of the day, with, you know, dozens of defendants. It was probably the biggest police corruption case in decades, and he was just brilliant in the way he handled that, very tenacious.

JOHNSON: Horowitz went on to work at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, where he served as chief of staff in the criminal division at the end of the Clinton years, and then under Bush administration official Michael Chertoff.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I said, you know, pursue the stuff that needs to be pursued. He is not going to be unfair or someone who takes cheap shots, but I do think he will call it like he sees it, even if he steps on some big toes.

JOHNSON: Stepping on big toes is pretty much the Horowitz job description. He's in charge of about 450 employees, including 125 federal agents who sift through allegations of misspending and misconduct at the Justice Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Michael Chertoff.

CHERTOFF: You're dealing with subjects who are themselves investigators, and therefore they tend to be particularly sensitive when the spotlight turns on them.

JOHNSON: Probably the biggest item on the Horowitz agenda is a long-awaited report on Fast and Furious. That's the flawed gun sting in Arizona, where ATF agents lost track of 2,000 guns. Some later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border. The operation ignited a rancorous political battle, culminating in a historic contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder. In an interview with NPR, Horowitz says he prizes one value above all others.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: That we come out with a report that is fair, that is focused on the facts, that ignores whatever the issues have been out there in terms of claims or counterclaims. We've got the evidence in front of us. We've got the documents. We've got the interviews that we've done, and we're going to need to report on those fairly, fully and completely.

JOHNSON: His report could come out by the end of summer, if all goes to schedule. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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