President Obama doesn’t like leaks and he doesn’t like scandals. In recent weeks he’s had plenty of both. We should not be surprised, then, that the Administration is once again using its government apparatus the “Chicago way” to stifle whistleblowers. It’s most recent victim: Aurelia Fedenisn.
As Accuracy in Media recently reported, Fedenisn broke the story that high-level State Department employees stifled eight inquiries into alleged illegal behavior by its employees, including an ambassador who has been accused of pedophilia and picking up prostitutes. The investigations that were covered up also include allegations of sexual assault and drug purchases. In addition, they showed a long-time Clinton loyalist Cheryl Mills interceding in Obama’s nominee for Iraq ambassadorship, Brett McGurk. These revelations could have a dire effect on Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances. Clinton’s reputation has already been hurt by the Benghazi scandal, according to a Bloomberg News poll.
What happens when you threaten the reputation of the Obama Administration and its subordinates? Strong-arm tactics emerge quickly. After all, the State Department found it difficult to give security clearances to attorneys who wanted to represent the Benghazi whistleblowers when they went before Congress. “Former U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova said today that the State Department is denying clearances to attorneys who want to represent Benghazi whistleblowers—even though one of the attorneys already has a current Top Secret security clearance,” reported CNS News in April.
“At least four State Department and CIA employees are being intimidated and blocked from cooperating with a congressional investigation into the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, according to an attorney for one of the officials,” reported CNN that month. “The officials consider themselves whistleblowers and feel threatened with career damage if they decide to give testimony to Congress, according to Victoria Toensing, an attorney for one of the State Department officials.”
Given how the Administration has pursued national security leaks, this is unsurprising. After all, this is the same government whose Justice Department subpoenaed two months of Associated Press call records in response to a leak, and the same DOJ that named James Rosen as a “co-conspirator” and a “flight risk” for reporting classified information about North Korea. The DOJ even went to three different judges until it found one willing to give them the search warrant without requiring that they notify Rosen about it.
It seems par for the course, then, that Fedenisn is being treated like a criminal by the State Department after revealing its misdeeds under Clinton’s leadership. Her attorney, Cary Schulman, told The Cable, a blog on the Foreign Policy magazine website, that “Fedenisn has paid a steep price” for her watchdog revelations. “They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself,” Schulman told John Hudson.
“After the CBS News made inquiries to the State Department about the charges, Schulman says investigators from the State Department’s Inspector General promptly arrived at Fedenisn’s door.” They “talked to both kids and never identified themselves,” says Schulman.
The officials even tried to get her to sign a document that says she stole the material. “Schulman says the purpose of the visit was to get Fedenisn to sign a document admitting that she stole State Department materials, such as the memos leaked to CBS,” reports Hudson. “Schulman says it was crucial that she didn’t sign the document because her separation agreement with the State Department includes a provision allowing disclosures of misconduct” (emphasis added). None of the documents released were classified; they were drafts of a report that in later iterations had been scrubbed of all references to the eight investigations.
CBS News has a video of the visit, where an unnamed official holding a bunch of papers asks for the “recording device” to be switched off so he can talk to her. “Ma’am, I can’t discuss it with you with the recording device on,” said the unnamed man on camera. Just “Two hours after CBS News made inquiries to the State Department about these charges, investigators from the State Department’s Inspector General showed up at her door,” reported CBS News at the time.
Hudson quotes Kel McClanahan, “a D.C. attorney who has represented several agency whistleblowers,” as saying that “This type of intimidation technique is all too common when an agency wants something from you that it is not entirely confident it can get without your cooperation, and more often than not people who don’t know any better fall for it.”
The threats don’t stop there. Schulman, Fedenisn’s attorney, “also said that officials from the Inspector General’s Office told him they’d be having a ‘no kidding get together with the [Department of Justice],’ implying to him that they would push criminal charges if his client didn’t cooperate.”
Apparently, the Administration would rather go after the whistleblowers rather than those who have committed real crimes.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.