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:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


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