House investigators seek Justice probe of NASA general counsel

House lawmakers this week requested a criminal investigation into the possibility that NASA General Counsel Michael Wholley destroyed government records and obstructed justice.

In a bipartisan letter signed by the chairman and ranking member of the House Science and Technology panel's investigations subcommittee, lawmakers asked the attorney general to investigate whether Wholley broke any laws when he destroyed all DVDs of an all-hands meeting between NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and inspector general office staff.

At a May subcommittee hearing, Wholley testified that he broke the disks in pieces and threw them away, shortly after the agency chief of staff collected all known recordings of the meeting. Griffin had called the meeting to discuss an IG group investigation that found the appearance of a lack of independence in Inspector General Robert Cobb's close relationship with the administrator. The investigation did not find evidence of an actual lack of independence.

In their letter, Reps. Brad Miller, D-N.C., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., claimed that Wholley had known since at least February that the committee took an active interest in the matter. A week before the April 10 inspector general staff meeting, Wholley allegedly sent an e-mail to an Office of Management and Budget official titled "Hearings??" on the possibility of the administrator's appearance before the subcommittee.

"Wholley's knowing destruction of sensitive records in his possession was a great detriment to our committees' investigations," the letter stated.

The lawmakers rejected Wholley's argument that the recordings were not yet government records when he destroyed them, citing a Federal Records Act definition of "record" as "All books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials … preserved or appropriate for preservation by [an] agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the government."

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin confirmed that the request had been received and said, "As with any allegation of criminal misconduct, investigators would review the matter."

Ablin declined to say how long it would take to reach a decision on whether to investigate, but noted that in either case the department does not confirm the existence of ongoing investigations. A committee spokeswoman said aides did not yet have a sense of whether Justice officials were likely to pursue the case.

From e-mail records obtained by the committee, Wholley appeared to know as early as March that he could become the focus of a firestorm. "Sorry to drone on so long," he allegedly wrote to a colleague at the end of an e-mail regarding a strategy for responding to the IG group's report on Cobb. "There's a lot here and I want to ensure that the [memo for the record] covers the advice we provided to the administrator so that if it hits the fan, I am in the crosshairs, not him! I am expendable; he aint!!(sic)"

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.