Top FBI Official Retaliated Against Whistleblower for 60 Minutes Appearance
The allegations related to mistreatment of John Roberts, a longtime Unit Chief at FBI Headquarters, who has investigated some of the FBI's most senior officials for misconduct. Roberts investigated, among other cases, the FBI's handling of the siege at Ruby Ridge and the "Pottsgate" scandal, where senior FBI officials were flown across the country at taxpayer expense for a sham conference, which was in truth a retirement party.
"John Roberts is a loyal and patriotic FBI agent who spoke the truth about the FBI's problems and upset the status quo. Instead of facing up to the criticism and clear evidence of a double standard in discipline, top bureaucrats circled the wagons and shot the messenger," Grassley said.
"John Roberts is absolutely dedicated to the FBI and to making it better and more effective," said Leahy, "and he has a spotless record from more than two decades of service to prove it. Retaliation of any kind against him for his courage in answering questions about issues relating to the need for reform is a travesty to him and his family, as well as to the FBI, the Congress and the American people. The entrenched tendency within the FBI to keep problems 'in the family' is counterproductive and wrong. The FBI does not have a right to secrecy about its problems, and the American people have a right to know so that these problems can be solved. Honest answers and FBI reform are all the more important now, because we need to make the FBI as effective as we need it to be in fighting terrorism."
In 2001, Roberts testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about a "double standard" in discipline at the FBI, where senior officials are often given little or no punishment for the same conduct that often would result in street agents being fired. The FBI gave Roberts permission to appear on 60 Minutes to air those criticisms. He said the double standard in discipline has continued since September 11, 2001, and that it would not change no matter who was in charge of the bureau.
Grassley and Leahy raised the issue of Jordan's retaliation against Roberts in November, and the IG then began its investigation.
Most significantly, the report finds that Jordan admitted he passed over Roberts for the position of Acting Deputy because of Roberts' comments on 60 Minutes, even though Roberts had seniority and held the position in the past. This, accompanied by the selection of a less experienced agent for the post, "left the clear appearance of retaliation against Roberts for his statements on 60 Minutes," the IG report states.
The IG expressed concern about a statement made by Jordan at a division wide meeting held when Roberts was home sick. At that meeting, Jordan stated "he who creates ambiguity shall have that ambiguity resolved against him." The OIG Report concluded that "Jordan's statement implied that Roberts would have some action resolved against him" and that "[a] reasonable inference from Jordan's statement was that some action would be taken against Roberts for his comments on 60 Minutes."
The report absolved FBI Director Robert Mueller from involvement in the retaliation against Roberts. IG investigators did unearth what Grassley and Leahy called a "smoking gun" e-mail from Mueller's second in command, Deputy Director Bruce Gebhardt. The e-mail, which was sent to Jordan, said "If we have internal problems then I would rather find solutions and fix them, rather than tell the world on 60 Minutes. In my opinion, Roberts brought discredit to the FBI Badge [sic], and the 27,000 employees at the FBI. I can't remember when I've been this disappointed." Jordan's response began, "I could not agree with you more."
Grassley said that after reading this report, "Director Mueller needs to think hard about whether people like Bob Jordan and Bruce Gebhardt should really have a place of authority in the FBI."
In the past, the FBI has come under criticism for fostering a "circle the wagons" culture that punishes public dissent. The IG Report also found that another FBI employee suggested in an e-mail to Jordan that Roberts be removed with a "loss of effectiveness" transfer for talking about FBI problems on national television. Jordan replied, "Your observations are accurate and probably reflect the opinions of others..."
Finally, the report found "troubling" an exchange during the all-employees meeting called by Jordan. At that meeting, an employee asked a question about whether there had been discussion of removing someone if he worked in a job for too long, a clear reference to Roberts. Jordan did not respond to the question, the IG found, leaving the impression he "agreed with the statement, or at a minimum, did not repudiate it." This all preceded Jordan's selection of the less experienced agent as his Acting Deputy. Jordan rescheduled the meeting for his own personal schedule, but he did not change it when he learned Agent Roberts could not attend.
The IG report also found that other allegations of retaliation were unintentional, unsupported, or the results of miscommunication.
Grassley and Leahy have been strong advocates for whistleblower protections, particularly at the FBI. Last year, they introduced legislation to address the accountability problems that have plagued the FBI for years. The legislation gives FBI whistleblowers the same rights given to other federal employees by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The bill unanimously passed out of committee, but was never taken up on the floor before adjournment of the 107th Congress.