Grassley on a Case of Whistleblower Retaliation at the Pentagon
Video of the speech is available here.
Floor Speech of Senator Chuck Grassley
on Admiral Losey Whistleblower Investigation
Delivered April 6, 2016
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to tell a story about how a distinguished naval career was ruined by abuse of suspected whistleblowers.
The end-result is a mixed bag of good and bad.
In doing oversight of Defense Department whistleblower cases, I have learned a difficult lesson. As hard as we may try, whistleblower cases rarely have good outcomes. True, a wrong may have been made right. A measure of justice may have been meted out. But the victims – the whistleblowers – have been left out in the cold. They may never get the remedies they seek and deserve.
At the center of this case is an honored naval officer, Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey. He can only blame himself for what happened. No matter how you cut it, though, the destruction of a distinguished military career – especially one devoted to hazardous duty in special operations – is unfortunate and sad. Yet that’s accountability’s harsh reality. He allegedly broke the law and must now pay the price.
In the end, under pressure from several quarters, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was forced to deny Admiral Losey his second star. This promotion was hanging fire for five years mostly because of ongoing investigations. Admiral Losey had allegedly retaliated against several whistleblowers.
If Secretary of the Navy Mabus and the Navy’s top brass had their way, Admiral Losey would be wearing that second star today. But late last year, it got tossed into a boiling cauldron.
Mounting opposition was coming from four different directions:
First, on November 13, 2015, after learning about the controversy, a bipartisan group of senators weighed in with a request for all reports on the Losey matter. The request came from Senators Wyden, Kirk, Boxer, Johnson, Markey, McCaskill, and Baldwin along with this Senator from Iowa. We are members of the Whistleblowers Protection Caucus. Others also requested these reports.
Second, on December 2, 2015, we received 4 of the 5 Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General reports of investigation. One is still being reviewed, and I will have more to say about that in a minute.
In reviewing these documents, we quickly realized that Admiral Losey appeared to be a serial “retaliator.” The evidence was overwhelming. He allegedly broke the law.
It all began in July 2011 at the Norfolk Navy base travel office. There was a minor dispute over who should pay for his daughter’s airline ticket to Germany. As a Coast Guard Academy cadet, she was not entitled to travel as a dependent at taxpayers’ expense.
Although Admiral Losey, his wife, and staff allegedly “pestered” the travel office to pay for the ticket, Admiral Losey eventually purchased it with his own money. Nonetheless, the incident triggered a Hotline complaint on July 13, 2011. Admiral Losey was informed of the complaint two months later.
It was all down-hill from there.
After learning of the anonymous Hotline tip, Admiral Losey was reportedly “livid.” He saw it as an act of disloyalty and “a conspiracy to undermine his command.” He reportedly developed a list of suspects and began a punitive hunt for moles. Reports indicate he was determined to find out who blew the whistle, and when he did, he allegedly said he “would cut the head off this snake and end this.”
In his drive to root out the moles, he created a “toxic” environment in his command. His seemingly reckless behavior and blatant disregard for the law and well-being of his subordinates led to his downfall.
The end-result of the admiral’s misguided search for moles were a series of reprisals against suspected whistleblowers. His choice of suspects was gravely mistaken.
Not one, in fact, had blown the whistle. Yet, each was allegedly subjected to adverse personnel action at his direction or with his concurrence. His targets were mostly senior members of his command staff in Stuttgart, Germany.
The person who actually blew the whistle worked in the travel office in Norfolk, Virginia. Clearly, this was a case of misdirected retaliation, which makes his alleged abuses even more egregious.
As soon as Senators finished reviewing these reports and started asking pointed questions, the Navy knew the watch-dogs were on the case. The Navy brass went to general quarters.
According to reports in the Washington Post, the top brass turned up the pressure. They arbitrarily dismissed the Inspector General’s findings and put the promotion on the fast track.
Third, my good friend from Oregon, Senator Ron Wyden, on December 18, 2015, upset that apple cart.
He placed a hold on the pending nomination for a new Under Secretary of the Navy, Dr. Janine Ann Davidson. His hold was not directed at her. Instead, it was directed at Admiral Losey’s pending promotion. He had grave concerns about the revelations in the Inspector General’s reports.
His hold restored much-needed leverage lost when the Senate confirmed the admiral’s promotion in December 2011. He wanted Secretary Mabus to reconsider the promotion. I commend my friend from Oregon for taking this action. It was a game-changer.
Fourth, on January 14, 2016, there came a bolt out of the blue.
The Senate Armed Services Committee fired a shot across the bow that stopped the Navy dead in the water.
The Committee’s letter to Secretary Mabus began with this damaging assessment: After reviewing the investigative reports, we “maintain deep reservations” about Admiral Losey’s ability to successfully perform at the two-star level.
This was the death knell, but the Committee’s condemnation did not end there.
If it had known in 2011 what it knows today, the Committee said, it would never have confirmed Admiral Losey’s nomination.
The Inspector General’s damaging investigative reports had turned its earlier assessment upside down.
The Committee then slammed the door shut.
The Committee urged Secretary Mabus to use his authority to deny the promotion. That was no gentle nudge. This letter effectively ended Admiral Losey’s career.
Secretary Mabus had run out of options. He had to do what he had to do. The Committee of jurisdiction had laid down the law. The admiral should not be promoted. End of story.
Admiral Losey will now step down as leader of the Naval Special Warfare Command and retire.
The Committee’s ground-breaking letter was signed by the Chairman, Senator McCain, and Ranking Member, Senator Reed.
This letter constitutes a sharp departure from the past.
During the course of my oversight work, I have had several beefs with the Committee over issues exactly like this one. All were about the need to hold senior officers accountable for alleged misconduct based on evidence in IG reports. The response back then was very different from what I see here today.
I see this letter as a breakthrough. It’s a masterpiece.
I am proud of the Committee. This about-face came under new leadership. I hope it signals the dawning of a bright, new day.
I thank Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed from the bottom of my heart for outstanding leadership.
Their action sends a message to whistleblowers: reprisal will not be tolerated. That’s a real morale booster for all whistleblowers suffering under the weight of reprisal.
I thank them for having the courage to do the right thing. Holding such a distinguished naval officer accountable was no easy task. To the contrary, it was as difficult as they get.
Mr. President, now that the question of the admiral’s promotion has been laid to rest, I would like to turn to some unfinished business that I alluded to earlier. The true scope of the admiral’s retaliatory actions is still being examined.
The focus is on the 5th and final report of the Losey investigation.
It’s more like a phantom than a real report.
Over one thousand one hundred and fifty days have passed since this investigation began, and it’s still not finished. It should be a piece of cake. The cast of characters, facts, evidence, and findings should be essentially the same as in the other Losey reports published long ago.
So what is really going on here?
I have received several anonymous tips. What I hear is disturbing. This report is allegedly being doctored, causing a bitter internal dispute.
On one side are the investigators. They appear to be guided by the evidence. On the other side is top management. They appear eager to line up with the Navy’s decision to arbitrarily dismiss the evidence.
From the get-go, the findings in the draft report substantiated reprisal allegations against Admiral Losey -- consistent with the other reports. Top management initially concurred with those findings. However, in response to alleged pressure from Secretary Mabus’ office, they caved and agreed to take Losey out of the report,
How could they get such a bad case of weak knees? The evidence starring them in the face seems irrefutable -- rock-solid. Plus, it was just re-affirmed by an unlikely source – the U.S. Air Force.
Because two Air Force officers were allegedly involved, the Air Force had to conduct its own review. The Air Force also found the evidence compelling. As a result, the Air Force officer, who was Admiral Losey’s command attorney, reportedly faces potential legal trouble. He allegedly facilitated the Admiral’s retaliatory actions. The other will retire.
Despite the red flags and need for caution, caution was tossed to the wind.
On March 31, 2015, Deputy Inspector General Marguerite Garrison gave the Navy a green light to proceed. She notified Admiral Losey by letter that “he was no longer a subject of the investigation.”
How could she do such a thing?
At that point in time, Admiral Losey’s alleged retaliation was the centerpiece of the report. True, it was a draft report in the midst of review. True, there were questions about Admiral Losey’s role. Yet, after the passage of one year, the dispute remains unresolved. The report is still in draft – mired in controversy.
Mr. President, something is rotten in the Pentagon.
To send such a letter, which was inconsistent with the evidence in an unfinished report, seems inappropriate.
The Garrison letter set the stage for what followed.
To conform with the Garrison letter, the findings in the draft report had to be allegedly changed from substantiated to not substantiated.
The investigators dug in their heels and stood their ground. The evidence was apparently on their side.
In early December 2015, as the Losey promotion issue reached a critical juncture, top management allegedly “directed” the investigators to change the report’s finding from substantiated to not-substantiated. The investigators were also allegedly directed to change facts and evidence to fit the desired finding. In other words, key pieces of evidence had to be allegedly “removed” to ensure that the evidence presented in the report was aligned with the specified conclusions.
These are very serious allegations.
Deliberately falsifying information in an official report constitutes a potential violation of law.
If the directed re-write of this report really happened and if it is allowed to stand, it could undermine the integrity of the investigative process.
The new acting Defense Department IG, Mr. Glenn Fine, needs to grab the bull by the horns.
He needs to call the top officials involved on the carpet. This would include Mrs. Garrison and her deputies, Director Nilgun Tolek and Deputy Director Michael Shanker. He needs to ask them to explain and justify their actions.
Next, he needs to ask the investigators to present their side of the story.
Then he needs to independently and objectively weigh the evidence and figure out what needs to be done.