Exclusive: Jan. 6 select committee will include former CIA inspector general found to have retaliated against whistleblower
WASHINGTON — As the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot prepares to get underway next week, it will include former CIA Inspector General David Buckley in the role of staff director.
The selection of Buckley to serve in that capacity, however, could come back to haunt the Democrats on the committee who selected him. Yahoo News has obtained a previously unpublished 2019 report compiled by the Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog office showing that investigators urged the CIA to take action against Buckley for his alleged retaliation against a whistleblower, a conclusion that would likely be troubling to potential witnesses who might testify in the Jan. 6 inquiry.
The authors of the report recommended that “at minimum” the CIA determine “whether [their] findings affect the security clearances” of Buckley and several fellow senior officials — a serious rebuke that would have affected his future government contract work as well as his tenure with the highly sensitive Capitol riot investigation.
The future of Buckley’s security clearance remains uncertain, and it is unclear whether the CIA heeded the report’s recommendations or took any action against him or his former colleagues. The CIA declined to comment. Buckley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The target of Buckley’s retaliation, former CIA IG official Andrew Bakaj, has yet to receive any remedy for a series of adverse actions that affected his career, including being put on administrative leave and having his security clearance suspended after cooperating with an external investigation into potential evidence manipulation at the CIA inspector general’s office.
While intelligence community whistleblowers do not always have substantial protections for disclosing evidence of government fraud, waste, abuse or wrongdoing, several developments including a policy directive issued by President Barack Obama in 2012, referred to as PPD19, were designed to fix that gap. Bakaj was, in fact, in charge of implementing Obama’s directive at the CIA, making him extremely familiar with the protections afforded under the law.
Bakaj’s superiors became frustrated, however, when he did not inform them he had responded to requests for information from the intelligence community inspector general, who was tasked with independent reviews affecting agencies within the intelligence community.
Bakaj ultimately chose to retire rather than continue to suffer professional consequences, later becoming the lead counsel for the still anonymous whistleblower who raised concerns about then-President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
He waited over five years for the Department of Homeland Security inspector general to conclude an impartial review of his retaliation complaints, which vindicated him, as Yahoo News reported in September 2019.
According to a spokesperson for the Jan. 6 select committee, the subject of the investigation into Buckley’s actions as CIA watchdog did surface during his interviews for the position. During that questioning, Buckley denied he had retaliated against Bakaj for his “claimed whistleblowing,” despite the fact that an independent government agency substantiated those allegations.
When asked whether the DHS report was considered by the committee during its hiring process, the spokesperson told Yahoo News that Buckley “worked tirelessly for over four years to conduct rigorous oversight of the CIA and to transform his Office into a respected and competent organization.” Part of that work involved “more trainings and oversight of his staff,” the spokesperson continued, changes that “some people rejected.”
But in their report, DHS investigators concluded that Buckley’s decision to launch an investigation into Bakaj’s record in the first place, regardless of what it found, was “tainted” and motivated by retaliation.
The Report of Investigation viewed by Yahoo News was sent to Christine Ruppert, then the acting CIA inspector general, on June 10, 2019. While a previously published executive summary revealed that CIA IG leadership opened a “retaliatory investigation” into an employee whistleblower, the newly obtained, 36-page report goes into further detail about the conclusions of the investigation and the specific people involved.
The report names Bakaj as the whistleblower who raised the complaints, as well as Buckley as one of the perpetrators.
According to the report’s timeline, Bakaj met with intelligence community inspector general deputy counsel Paul Wogaman in April 2014 to help with an inquiry into the CIA IG’s office. When his superiors learned of the disclosure they became angry, telling Bakaj that he should have “confirmed that the request was authorized” before speaking to Wogaman, though Bakaj had no responsibility to do so. In response, the CIA launched a review of his computer searches and other professional activity.
The investigation into Bakaj turned up one instance in which he accessed and copied a sensitive CIA file on his computer. However, the CIA couldn’t find any evidence that Bakaj had done anything with the files, and he told interviewers the search was benign. During the investigation, Buckley placed Bakaj on administrative leave. Ultimately, the CIA concluded the files were not leaked, and the FBI declined to investigate Bakaj’s computer searches. By then, however, he had retired from the agency.
In 2015, after Bakaj had retired, he filed a complaint of retaliation against the CIA. The DHS inspector general got involved after determining that the CIA had failed to properly review it. “Upon reviewing the case file, the DHS-OIG determined that the CIA-OIG did not complete a full local agency review under PPD19,” the investigators wrote.
DHS investigators determined that the evidence revealed in Bakaj’s complaint was protected under the law. Additionally, the investigators concluded that the CIA OIG’s investigation into his record “was a pretext for gathering evidence to use to retaliate against” him.
In addition, Bakaj’s disclosures were a “contributing factor” that led to his administrative leave and clearance suspension, the investigators continued. There is “significant evidence” that the CIA OIG “had a motive to retaliate” against Bakaj, wrote the investigators.
Despite the fact that Buckley retired in 2015 to work at the U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, the DHS-OIG forwarded the report to the CIA “to determine appropriate corrective action.”
While it’s unclear whether the CIA responded to those recommendations, Christopher Sharpley, Buckley’s former deputy who served as the acting CIA IG in 2018, withdrew his nomination for the full-time IG job after his involvement in retaliating against Bakaj and others was covered by the media.
The Democratic leadership’s decision to hire Buckley despite the DHS’s conclusions has enraged former CIA IG officials familiar with Buckley’s tenure as well as experts on whistleblower protections who, as a result, are casting doubt on the legitimacy of the select committee’s investigation.
Dan Meyer, who previously led the whistleblowing and source protection program at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General, told Yahoo News he was unable to comment on the specific case, due to a nondisclosure agreement. However, Meyer, currently a managing partner at the law firm Tully Rinckey, wrote in an email that “reprising [creates] a corrupting management culture,” a pattern of behavior that “will give congressional sources pause.”
“The IC whistleblowing program, from 2013 to 2018, received a number of allegations, some substantiated, that inspectors general themselves were engaging in retaliation against their own intelligence officers charged by President Obama and Director [James] Clapper with, ironically, protecting whistleblowers,” Meyer, speaking in his personal capacity, continued. “It was an unanticipated challenge, and one that ultimately ended the program.”
"No whistleblower is likely to trust someone with a record of opening a retaliatory investigation,” wrote Jason Foster, the former chief investigative counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The chaos and partisanship infecting the process undermines the committee's credibility, which has developed into a full-blown dumpster fire at this point.” While Foster has plenty of Democratic critics, his former boss Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has made whistleblower protections a top priority.
One former CIA IG employee told Yahoo News that he “came out of his seat” when he heard Buckley had been selected for the Jan. 6 select committee. “There’s an objective, impartial government agency that substantiated the allegations against him … and now he’s going to be the chief of staff to a high-visibility committee [that is] going to have whistleblowers providing testimony before the committee,” he said. “This makes absolutely no sense. It taints the entire process.”
Irvin McCullough, deputy director of legislation at the whistleblower protection nonprofit the Government Accountability Project, agreed.
“The free flow of information through whistleblower testimony is the lifeblood of any congressional investigation,” McCullough wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
“How can whistleblowers safely step forward to the Select Committee when a federal watchdog found its staff director reprised against a whistleblower?”
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