A Delay in the Confirmation of Trump’s CIA Watchdog Nominee is Looking More Likely

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter about Sharley to Intelligence Committee leaders. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter about Sharley to Intelligence Committee leaders. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The acting CIA inspector general President Trump has nominated for the permanent job raised some eyebrows at last month’s confirmation hearing when he suggested he was unfamiliar with three unresolved whistleblower reprisal complaints involving him or his office.

Two of the former CIA IG employees involved in the complaints against Christopher Sharpley have now allowed their names to be published by reporters; the new legal nonprofit called Whistleblower Aid has taken them on as its first two cases.

Additionally, two senators active in whistleblower issues are awaiting a decision from the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding a letter they sent on Oct. 25 arguing against Sharpley’s quick confirmation and pointing to problems at the CIA IG’s office.

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Disputing an article by the Project on Government Oversight referenced at his Oct. 17 hearing, Sharpley told senators, “I’m unaware of any open investigations on me, the details of any complaints about me.”

Now on the public record are details of the pending complaints of alleged career-damaging actions by CIA IG staff against former CIA IG special agents Jonathan Kaplan, 59, and Andrew Bakaj, as reported on Monday by the Associated Press.

Kaplan, according to an Oct. 30 letter sent from Whistleblower Aid executive director John Napier Tye to leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel, said that Sharpley “deliberately misled Congress in his sworn testimony.” Sharpley, the letter quotes whistleblower Kaplan as saying, “has been dishonest with this committee about Mr. Sharpley’s personal knowledge of multiple whistleblower reprisal investigations in which Mr. Sharpley is named.”

That story followed a Nov. 1 report from the nonprofit investigative news service ProPublica that provided additional detail. It spoke of a rift between the CIA IG and the broader intelligence community inspector general. “More broadly,” this report said, the two cases “raise questions about how well intelligence agencies are implementing policies that were introduced to protect whistleblowers after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was charged with espionage for leaking classified documents.”

Whistleblower Aid leader Tye highlighted to Government Executive an exhibit attached to his letter to senators. It is an affidavit, “literally signed by Sharpley,” showing that Sharpley is aware of details of the Kaplan whistleblower reprisal case, he said.

Asked for comment on Monday, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani reiterated to Government Executive his past statement characterizing Sharpley as having a “sterling five-year career at CIA” without any findings of wrongdoing or misconduct. With 36 years of investigative, law enforcement and IG experience, Sharpley has “created two IG offices from scratch within the federal government,” the statement said. “His credentials and qualifications to be CIA IG are obvious and substantial.  We look forward to his quick and justified confirmation.” 

After Sharpley told senators at his hearing that he was not familiar with any open probes, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Oct. 25 sent a tough letter to intel panel Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va. “We do not believe the Senate should confirm individuals to executive branch leadership positions, particularly to head an inspector general’s office, while whistleblower reprisal complaints against them are pending,” they wrote. “In addition, our offices have received complaints that the component IGs in the intelligence community, including and in some cases particularly the CIA OIG, have strongly resisted the oversight role of the IC IG and the mandate to investigate reprisal claims, and have caused substantial delays in reprisal investigations.”

Kaplan’s complaint is under investigation by the CIA IG, while Bakaj’s is being probed by the watchdog for the Homeland Security Department. The Senate panel has not set a date for a vote on Sharpley, and Burr’s staff did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

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