On Monday, August 1st, four federal agencies celebrated National Whistleblower Day with an event sponsored by the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. This was the first time any federal agencies have ever recognized Whistleblower Day, although the U.S. Senate has passed a resolution four years in a row proclaiming July 30th as National Whistleblower Day.
Dr. Frederic Whitehurst took on the FBI because he knew that defendants had been wrongly convicted on the basis of seriously flawed testimony by the FBI crime lab. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the D.C. Superior Court overturned the conviction of a man who wrongly served 28 years in prison for killing a taxi driver. It is amazing to see the positive result of Dr. Whitehurst’s hard work. One person really can make a difference.
Sadly, Mr. Tribble was not the only victim of the misconduct by the FBI crime lab. After Dr. Whitehurst’s original whistleblower disclosures, the Justice Department formed a Task Force to review thousands of cases impacted by his allegations and to determine if any individuals were wrongly convicted. Although the Justice Department and FBI pledged to correct their mistakes, documents obtained by the NWC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show they failed.
Last month, the Washington Post published a series of articles about the failures in the Task Force’s “investigation,” including that they never issued a final report and did not inform defendants about the misconduct in their cases. Once again, this only came to light because Dr. Whitehurst followed through on his personal vow to find out who was harmed. He was the one who lead the NWC Forensic Justice Project’s FOIA fight to release the documents about the Task Force.
This week The Washington Times published a lament of Attorney General Eric Holder’s treatment of FBI whistleblowers based on a public complaint from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The article is aptly titled, “Grassley: Whistleblower Cases Stuck ‘in limbo’ Under Holder."
In his letter, Senator Grassley declared that, “perpetual delays for resolving FBI whistleblower cases at the Department of Justice,” led him to the conclusion that, “The process of resolving whistleblower cases appears to be broken.” The Department of Justice refused to comment for the Washington Times article.
To support this point, Senator Grassley used the specific examples of FBI whistleblowers Jane Turner and Robert Kobus. Jane Turner has seen her case stalled for nine years now, while Robert Kobus’ case has been help up for about four.
Jane Turner, a highly decorated 30-year FBI veteran, was fired after reporting that FBI agents had taken “souvenirs” from Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. Five years after she filed her 2002 claim, a civil jury held that she had been illegally retaliated against and was due compensatory funds. Senator Grassley’s complaint stems from the fact that the FBI’s appeal is still bouncing around the Department of Justice to this day. “Any reasonable person would agree that 9 years is extreme and unacceptable,” he concluded.
Robert Kobus blew the whistle on timecard fraud in the FBI’s field office in New York, and in 2007 the Office of Inspector General found that the FBI had illegally retaliated against him for his report. Much like Jane Turner, Kobus has jumped through all of the hoops required for a speedy decision, but Senator Grassley pointed out that, “Mr. Kobus’ case has now languished in bureaucratic red tape for approximately 4 years.”
Attorney General Holder once testified that he would, “ensure that people are given the opportunity to blow the whistle and they will not be retaliated against, and then to hold accountable anybody who would attempt to do that.” Senator Grassley has long been a steady supporter of whistleblowers, and advocates this same view. However, in his letter, the Senator contrasts his true commitment with the Attorney General’s lip service: “Whistleblowers are key to unlocking many of the secrets hidden deep in the closets of the federal government. Allowing a case to sit in limbo for more than nine years shows a lack of commitment to resolving issues for these courageous people.”
The delays that Senator Grassley and The Washington Times have discussed are indeed a major systemic problem. These unnecessary hassles are the icing on the case for brave employees who risk their careers for the public interest.
*Intern Regan Moore contributed to this posting