Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined a Republican colleague in placing a hold.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined a Republican colleague in placing a hold. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Second Senator Blocks Intelligence Nominee Over Firing of Whistleblower Ombudsman

Wyden and Grassley await documents on Dan Meyer’s centralized program for Intel Community.

President Trump’s nominee to be general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last week learned that his confirmation vote is being delayed by a senator protesting the failure of the government intelligence chief to provide documents on the firing of longtime intelligence community whistleblower ombudsman Dan Meyer.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on April 16, took to the floor of the Senate to announce that he was joining Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., in placing a “hold” on the nomination of Jason Klitenic pending resolution of the document request sent in March to DNI Dan Coats. “My hold is not connected to the qualifications of Mr. Klitenic to serve in the position to which he has been nominated, and it is my intention to release the hold once my concerns related to the OIG are resolved,” Wyden said.

Klitenic, who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, has worked as an attorney at the Homeland Security and Justice departments.

Wyden added that the termination of Meyer’s position at the IC inspector general’s office “came after an extended period during which the acting leadership of the OIG demonstrated a lack of support for the critical whistleblower protection mission of the office. The timing of these actions, which occurred during the confirmation process for Mr. Michael Atkinson to be the new inspector general, is especially troubling,” Wyden said. “We are concerned that the termination of the executive director may constitute an effort to preempt the nominee’s authority to make his own decisions upon confirmation.”

Grassley’s office confirmed that the senator had yet to receive the requested ODNI documents.

Meyer was removed in early March by deputy DNI Sue Gordon after being brought before two review boards on charges of misconduct and alleged security infractions. But he and allies in the whistleblower community see the decision as an indicator that Coats is planning to decentralize the whistleblower outreach and training program among the 17 intelligence agencies.

“The senator's action is a critical step in exercising effective congressional oversight,” Meyer told Government Executive on Monday. “As acting Inspector General Wayne Stone stands up the new, delegated system of IC whistleblower protection programs, understanding the basis for terminating Director [James] Clapper's centralized and integrative IC Whistleblowing program is important.  Delegated systems have existed with DoD and have been criticized by the Government Accountability Office for years now. Is the IC making the same mistakes?"

Asked for comment, ODNI spokesman Joel Melstad said, “Director Coats believes strongly in the importance of the role of the Office of the Intelligence Community inspector general and the need for strong whistleblower protections. He has met with Senator Grassley and Senator Wyden individually to address their concerns about the Office of the IC Inspector General and will continue to work with them to resolve this matter.”  

Meyer has not given up on the idea of reinstatement when a permanent IG is installed. Wyden urged in his letter to Coats “that all personnel decisions made by the OIG since the nomination of Mr. Atkinson, including the termination of the executive director, be stayed pending his confirmation.”

Meyer’s allies have also attacked the process by which he was removed. John Crane, a former colleague of Meyer’s at the Defense Department IG’s office who has been battling a firing in his own whistleblower case, told Government Executive that “Meyer was removed from his position of protecting whistleblowers by a board that had no jurisdictional basis for making any judgment, and which was comprised of least one known acting IG who had been previously punished for whistleblower retaliation against a whistleblower facilitated by Dan Meyer.”

That board member was April Stephenson, the acting IG at the Energy Department, who lost her post running the Defense Contract Audit Agency in 2009.