Whistleblowers reveal pattern of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct at FBI

A hostile work environment of sexual harassment and retaliation against female agents who complain about it have persisted at the FBI for more than a year after FBI Director Christopher A. Wray pledged to fix the problem, according to several whistleblowers.

The latest complaints turned up the heat on Mr. Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland. Lawmakers began scrutinizing them after whistleblowers unleashed a flood of accusations that the FBI had politicized investigations and its leadership had turned a blind eye to widespread misconduct at field offices.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, blasted Mr. Wray and Mr. Garland for failing to hold accountable senior FBI officials accused of sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. 

“Lawful, protected whistleblower disclosures provided to my office include allegations and records that show hundreds of FBI employees have retired or resigned because of sexual misconduct allegations against them and that they did so in order to avoid accountability,” Mr. Grassley said in a letter Wednesday. “The allegations and records paint a disgraceful picture of abuse that women within the FBI have had to live with for many years. This abuse and misconduct is outrageous and beyond unacceptable.”

Mr. Grassley fumed about the reports of unchecked sexual harassment at the nation’s top law enforcement agency.

“If the Justice Department and FBI can’t ensure the equal application of the law within its own ranks, how can they be trusted to apply the law equally against the American people? Further, the 2022 Justice Department document notes that Director Wray and Deputy Director [Paul] Abbate have not aggressively moved to solve the sexual misconduct problems at the FBI,” he wrote.

According to an FBI whistleblower disclosure sent to the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Wray and Mr. Abbate allowed FBI executives and senior managers accused of sexual misconduct to remain in their positions and refused to take action against them or delayed action for years.

The whistleblower’s attorney briefed The Washington Times on the details of the disclosure.

“Mr. Wray and Mr. Abbate should have immediately taken both performance measures and administrative misconduct measures against executives involved in sexual misconduct while working,” the lawyer said. “Instead, Mr. Wray and Mr. Abbate have allowed other executives to continue their misconduct and/or retaliate against victims and witnesses, while the subordinate employees have no immediate recourse to stop the offenders. Mr. Wray’s and Mr. Abbate’s refusal to act and protect their female employees has threatened the health and safety of the women in the FBI.”

The FBI employee, who is willing to testify before Congress, requested that lawmakers mandate that the FBI release the names of Senior Executive Service members found to have committed sexual misconduct including harassment, assault or inappropriate touching.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whistleblower charges is that similar accusations more than a year ago did not result in a change in the culture at the FBI.

The bureau was scrutinized in June 2021 after an Associated Press investigation revealed a series of sexual assault and harassment accusations against senior officials who were allowed to “quietly avoid discipline and retire or transfer even after the claims were substantiated.”

Earlier last year, the FBI settled a harassment, discrimination and retaliation lawsuit by a high-ranking woman serving as an FBI agent. Her attorney said the FBI agreed to pay more than $1.2 million, which included $1 million for attorneys’ fees and costs based on three years of litigation.

Mr. Abbate told AP that the agency would not put up with sexual misconduct by its personnel and that those who do so should be scared because “we’re coming for them.”

“That’s a strong approach, a forceful shift, and we mean it. And it’s coming from the top,” Mr. Abbate said. “Individuals who engage in this type of misconduct don’t belong in the FBI, and they certainly should not have supervisory oversight of others. Period.”

FBI officials touted a 24-hour tip line to report abuse and a working group of senior executives to review policies and protocols on harassment and victim support and more immediate action to investigate accusations and terminate or at least demote employees who have engaged in misconduct. Officials also claimed to have extended the bureau’s victim services division to support employees who were victims of internal misconduct.

An FBI whistleblower disclosure this year shows the hotline is nonexistent.

According to the disclosure, a female FBI employee said her call to the hotline was answered by the FBI headquarters Strategic Information & Operations Center. “The operator had never heard about any special FBI sexual harassment hotline,” she said.

Another female FBI agent said in a disclosure to Congress that she was sexually harassed by a boss.

“This ASAC routinely telephoned the female employee after 8 pm and forced the female agent to talk with him, referring to her as ‘baby doll.’”  

In a statement to The Times, the FBI said: “FBI employees — regardless of rank or title — are expected to foster a workplace that’s respectful, professional, and free from offensive, inappropriate, or harassing behavior. We are committed to ensuring allegations of misconduct are thoroughly reviewed, that full investigations are initiated where appropriate, and that we take swift and appropriate actions — including, where warranted, immediate reassignment of those in supervisory positions during investigation and adjudication.”

The FBI statement continued: “Due process and fair investigation are important. But we won’t hesitate to impose severe sanctions where misconduct is substantiated, including revocation of security clearances and dismissal from duty.”

Lawmakers were shocked by the hostile work environment for women at the FBI despite Mr. Wray’s pledge of reform. 

“It sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah up there,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee.