Whistleblower Advocates Raise Concerns about Jan. 6 Investigation Committee Member

Photo of the U.S. Capitol building in the middle, with the blurry fence in the immediate foreground

On July 22, Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, announced senior staff members who will be working alongside other Representatives on the committee. Among the senior staff members is David Buckley, who has been named as the committee’s Staff Director. Whistleblower advocates are taking issue with this choice, pointing to a 2019 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) that shows investigators found that Buckley engaged in whistleblower retaliation while working as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Inspector General.

The report, published by Yahoo News on July 23, described the investigation into possible whistleblower retaliation by Buckley prompted by a complaint by Andrew Bakaj, a former Special Agent for the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (CIA-OIG). Bakaj alleged in his complaint that Buckley “and other senior officials retaliated against him for providing information to the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community (ICIG),” the report states.

According to the report, Bakaj “engaged in protected whistleblower activity” in April of 2014 when he talked with the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community (ICIG). In his complaint, Bakaj alleged that after he made his protected activity, CIA-OIG engaged in whistleblower retaliation against him. He alleged that “CIA-OIG officials berated him for cooperating with the ICIG, forbade him from cooperating with the ICIG without receiving CIA-OIG authorization, and later retaliated against him by placing him on enforced administrative leave and suspending his security clearance.”

The DHS OIG report concludes: “For the reasons explained more fully below, the evidence establishes that those personnel actions were taken in retaliation for the Complainant’s protected activity.”

Whistleblower advocates have taken issue and spoken out about Buckley’s involvement in the January 6 committee. Whistleblower lawyer Mark Zaid represented the CIA analyst and whistleblower who filed a complaint in 2019 about former President Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky; this whistleblower’s allegations also prompted Trump’s impeachment inquiry and subsequent impeachment. Zaid also represented Bakaj, and told The New York Times that he is “aghast” that Buckley is on the January 6 committee. “Putting Buckley in this position is an outright affront to every lawful whistle-blower that exists,” he said in the August 3 article. Zaid “also represents some of the Capitol Police officers who testified before the committee during its first hearing last week.”

According to the Times article, Bakaj went to the ICIG in 2014 after Bakaj’s colleagues “brought him allegations that other C.I.A. officers were manipulating evidence in a sealed case that had been referred to federal prosecutors.” Bakaj alerted the ICIG because Buckley’s office “did not act on the complaints,” and an ICIG investigation “ultimately found there was merit in the allegations Mr. Bakaj had flagged,” the article states.

Zaid also took issue with a statement given from a committee spokesperson in a July 23 CNN article. “Mr. Buckley raised this matter during the Staff Director interview process and denies taking any action against the complainant in retaliation for the employee’s claimed whistleblowing. In his role as CIA Inspector General, Mr. Buckley had no choice but to place the complainant on administrative leave after the CIA’s Office of Security suspended the employee’s clearance,” the committee spokesperson’s statement reads. Zaid responded to the statement on Twitter, stating that the comment was “incredibly insulting” in “describing [Bakaj’s] protected disclosures against CIA officials as ‘claimed whistleblowing.’”

In a July 29 press release, advocacy group the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) expressed their disappointment at Buckley’s membership on the January 6 committee. “The committee should remove Buckley as staff director and pledge to protect any whistleblowers who come forward during the committee’s investigation,” the press release states. “If the committee wants to proceed with integrity and get to the bottom of the attack on the Capitol, it must hire individuals committed to protecting whistleblowers…Hiring an individual who has retaliated against a whistleblower in the past—and placing him in such a prominent position—sends a chilling message to potential witnesses.”

“I was flabbergasted when I saw that the new staff director for the select committee has retaliated against a whistleblower,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO. “Whistleblowers are key resources when it comes to finding and addressing abuse of power, and I’d expect congressional oversight leaders to recognize the importance of treating these truth-tellers with respect. I believe the select committee wants to—and can—conduct a fair, in-depth investigation into the January 6 attack, but for that to happen, committee leaders must remove Buckley from this leadership role and pledge to protect any whistleblowers who come forward.”

“Whistleblower insights will be critical to the January 6th Committee’s deliberations,” said Siri Nelson, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center. “If Mr. Buckley continues to hold a prominent position, it would surely cause uncertainty for these essential witnesses. In this instance, Congress has to decide whether Americans deserve to know what really happened on January 6. Removing Mr. Buckley is an essential way Congress can show whistleblower witnesses and the American public that it is serious about an effective investigation.”

In the Times article, committee spokesperson Tim Mulvey spoke in support of Buckley’s role in the committee. “He understands as well as anyone the importance of whistle-blowers in providing information to keep us safe and to keep our government accountable,” Mulvey said about Buckley. “Mr. Buckley did his job to protect the integrity of that effort,” Mulvey said in reference to the CIA investigation. In the article, he points to a legal ruling made last year “that found that an investigation into a whistle-blower, by itself, does not constitute retaliation.” However, the Times reports: “critics argue that if an investigation results in an adverse personnel action, as it did for Mr. Bakaj, it could be,” which the DHS OIG report “took into account.”

Read the Yahoo News article here.

Read the CNN article here. 

Read The New York Times coverage here.

Read more government whistleblower news on WNN.

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