FBI’s senior ranks shaken by reports of misconduct
Probe identifies at least six cases of sexual impropriety alleged in past five years
WASHINGTON— An assistant FBI director retired after he was accused of drunkenly groping a female subordinate in a stairwell. Another senior FBI official left after he was found to have sexually harassed eight employees.
Yet another high-ranking FBI agent retired after he was accused of blackmailing a young employee into sexual encounters.
An Associated Press investigation has identified at least six sexual misconduct allegations involving senior FBI officials over the past five years, including two new claims brought this week by women who say they were sexually assaulted by ranking agents.
Each of the accused FBI officials appears to have avoided discipline, the AP found, and several were quietly transferred or retired, keeping their full pensions and benefits even when probes substantiated the sexual misconduct claims against them.
Beyond that, federal law enforcement officials are afforded anonymity even after the disciplinary process runs its course, allowing them to land on their feet in the private
sector or even remain in law enforcement.
“They’re sweeping it under the rug,” said a former FBI analyst who alleges in a new federal lawsuit that a supervisory special agent licked her face and groped her at a colleague’s farewell party in 2017. She ended up leaving the FBI and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As the premier law enforcement organization that the FBI holds itself out to be, it’s very disheartening when they allow people they know are criminals to retire and pursue careers in law enforcement-related fields,” said the woman, who asked to be identified in this story only by her first name, Becky.
The AP’s count does not include the growing number of high-level FBI supervisors who have failed to report romantic relationships with subordinates in recent years — a pattern that has alarmed investigators with the Office of Inspector General and raised questions about bureau policy.
The recurring sexual misconduct has drawn the attention of Congress and advocacy groups, which have called for whistleblower protections for rank-and-file FBI employees and for an outside entity to review the bureau’s disciplinary cases.
In a statement, the FBI said it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment” and that claims against supervisors have resulted in them being removed from their positions while cases are investigated and adjudicated.
It added that severe cases can result in criminal charges and that the FBI’s internal disciplinary process assesses, among other factors, “the credibility of the allegations, the severity of the conduct,
and the rank and position of the individuals involved.”
The latest claims come months after a 17th woman joined a federal lawsuit alleging systemic sexual harassment at the FBI’s training academy in Quantico, Va. That class-action case claims male FBI instructors made “sexually charged” comments about women needing to “take their birth control to control their moods,” inviting women trainees over to their homes and openly disparaging them.
Confronted with a sexual assault allegation at a veterans hospital, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie repeatedly sought to discredit the congressional aide who made the complaint and his staff worked to spread negative information about her while ignoring known problems of harassment at the facility, according to an investigative report released Thursday.
The 47-page report by the VA’s internal watchdog paints a portrait of a department led by senior officials who were indifferent, if not hostile, to the issues at the department’s flagship medical center in the nation’s capital. It found that Wilkie acted
unprofessionally if not unethically, in the case of Navy veteran Andrea Goldstein, a policy adviser to Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Associated Press policy is not to name victims or possible victims of sexual assault. Goldstein agreed to be publicly identified.
Wilkie and other senior officials declined to fully cooperate with the investigation. For that reason, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said he could not conclude whether Wilkie had acted illegally, allegedly by personally digging into the woman’s past and working with a Republican congressman to dismiss her as a repeat complainer.
Wilkie said the allegations are false. “After nearly a year of investigation, interviews with 65 people and analysis of nearly 1.5 million documents, VA’s inspector general cannot substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the veteran,” Wilkie said.
Goldstein said the report confirmed that Wilkie’s response “was not to take ownership and ensure accountability, but to investigate me and attempt to impugn my character.”