Stalled Nominee for CIA Watchdog Job Withdraws Amid Whistleblower Criticism

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had decided to delay a vote on the nominee. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had decided to delay a vote on the nominee. Flickr user Gage Skidmore

A veteran of several inspector general offices whose nomination to be permanent CIA watchdog was stalled in the Senate has withdrawn from consideration and is leaving the government, the agency confirmed.

As the Associated Press reported on Friday, intelligence community whistleblowers and their advocacy groups had criticized Christopher Sharpley—who had 36 years in federal law enforcement—for alleged retaliation against employees who made disclosures, producing skepticism on Capitol Hill.

Several senators questioned Sharpley during an October 2017 confirmation hearing about reports that he was under investigation for possible reprisals in multiple whistleblower complaints reported in detail by the journalism project ProPublica and the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight. The legal aid group Whistelblower Aid also raised objections to the nominee based on clients’ claims, resulting in a decision by Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to delay voting on his nomination to be CIA inspector general.

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Sharpley told senators he had read the POGO reporting but was unaware that he was the subject of any reprisal investigations.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Warner, D-Va., joined Grassley in resisting Sharpley. The lawmakers wrote to the Intelligence Committee arguing that, “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.”

Sharpley had joined the CIA inspector general as a deputy in 2012, and has been acting CIA IG since 2015. Last week he announced his resignation in a memo to employees.  

“CIA is grateful to Acting Inspector General Chris Sharpley for his service to the agency, including his work to professionalize the Office of Inspector General,” CIA spokesperson Nicole de Haay said in a statement Monday to Government Executive. “CIA’s commitment to rigorous, independent oversight is unwavering, and the Office of Inspector General will carry on that important mission through the transition.” 

Though no official reason was given for Sharpley’s departure, many whistleblowers had followed the situation with interest.

Sharpley’s departure shows the “the system does work,” Mark Zaid, attorney and founding partner of Whistleblower Aid, told Government Executive. “It has flaws in it, but when handled properly, the system can work. In this case, we prevented an individual whose job is to protect whistleblowers but instead attacked them, from entering into a formal position.”

Given the “outstanding credible fact-filled allegations of his personal retributions against whistleblowers, he as the CIA IG leader had no legitimacy at all,” a terminated CIA employee-turned-whistleblower known as James Pars told Government Executive. “By nature of his position, the entire CIA IG had no legitimacy to handle any and all reprisal-related issues during his time. Why? All CIA IG officers report to him,” said Pars, whose case is being appealed. Even if Sharpley were to recuse himself from certain cases, “There is no guarantee that any CIA IG reprisal final disposition would be free of biased findings.”

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

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