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CIA watchdog withdraws nomination after allegations of retaliation against colleagues

Christopher Sharpley, the acting Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency, is withdrawing his nomination ...

Posted: Jul 20, 2018 8:12 PM
Updated: Jul 20, 2018 8:12 PM

Christopher Sharpley, the acting Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency, is withdrawing his nomination after former colleagues alleged he retaliated against them for blowing the whistle on CIA IG officials' alleged mishandling of evidence.

According to two sources familiar with the matter, and confirmed by the CIA, Sharpley sent an email to staff on Wednesday telling them he was pulling back his nomination to be CIA Inspector General and would be retiring from CIA within 30 days to seek other opportunities. His specific reason for withdrawing now was not immediately clear.

His resignation comes as President Donald Trump continues to face difficulties installing his candidates in key roles -- and as the intelligence community comes under increased pressure from the White House surrounding the various investigations into Russian meddling during the 2016 US presidential elections.

Sharpley, the former deputy Inspector General under President Barack Obama, has served in watchdog offices across government for decades after he left the Air Force. He has served in the acting role since 2015.

Sharpley has been the subject of complaints made by multiple former employees within the Inspector General's Office. Andrew Bakaj and Jonathan Kaplan, two of the retired officials whose complaints are now public, alleged that Sharpley punished them for reporting wrongdoing within the office. There are additional complaints from employees who have not revealed their names.

The officials' alleged Shapley interrupted witness interviews to try and identify whistleblowers in an ongoing investigation into top officials' mishandling of evidence in a contracting bribery case, forcing prosecutors at the Department of Justice to toss out evidence and settle.

Sharpley said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Intelligence Committee, in response to questions from Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, about Kaplan and Bakaj's complaints, that he was not aware of the ongoing investigations into his conduct. "I'm not aware of any ongoing investigations or the details of any complaints and no actions or conclusions of wrongdoing have been made about my career or anything that I've done," said Sharpley.

However, he was interviewed for the investigations and his signature is on multiple filings related to the cases. His failure to acknowledge those investigations led multiple senators to stonewall his confirmation.

The agency also "punted" on doing in-depth investigations into the deaths of American officials in Benghazi, Libya, Kaplan alleged, and pushed for more law enforcement capabilities like the ability to carry guns.

Kaplan and Bakaj allege they suffered negative consequences in their careers after filing complaints against Sharpley. Bakaj, the author of the CIA's rules on how to properly handle whistleblowers without retaliation, was put on administrative leave without pay for 18 months before he chose to leave. Kaplan, who alleges he was restricted from doing his job, left the agency and his security clearance was revoked.

Both officials are involved in ongoing investigations into the CIA Inspector General's actions, which outside agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, are handling. According to Bakaj's lawyers, DHS has nearly completed its investigation. The CIA confirmed to CNN that Sharpley would be leaving and praised his decades of service in the agency. They did not make Sharpley available for comment. In the past, the agency has said that Sharpley has not had any black marks in his record of wrongdoing or misconduct and built multiple IG offices from the ground up.

"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," wrote a CIA spokesperson.

"After three decades of public service, he has decided to continue his career outside the Agency, and we wish him the best in this new chapter. CIA's commitment to rigorous, independent oversight is unwavering, and the Office of Inspector General will carry on that important mission through the transition."

Mark Zaid and John Tye, attorneys representing the whistleblowers through a new nonprofit Whistleblower Aid, said Sharpley's failure to get confirmed showed the whistleblower system working properly.

"These two men have shown incredible dedication and sacrifice," said Zaid, a national security lawyer in Washington who regularly works on security clearance issues.

"The IG system plays a crucial role in oversight ... in recommending solutions. It's especially important for the 17 US intelligence agencies because so much of what they do is secret," said Tye, a former whistleblower himself. "Even members of Congress have a very limited view into what the intelligence agencies are doing."

The CIA IG has in the past investigated key issues including gender disparity at the agency, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Bush-era enhanced interrogation program, and the Iran-Contra scandal -- and serves an important independent oversight role. Whistleblowers are meant to be able to approach the IG or the congressional committees to file complaints of fraud, waste, abuse, or illegality.

It's unclear when or if the Trump administration will nominate a new candidate to be the top watchdog at CIA. However, the administration recently worked to confirm a new inspector general for the intelligence community overall, the Intelligence Community Inspector General. Michael Atkinson was confirmed in May, after Congress held him up due to the ICIG's own controversy over delayed cases, turf battles, and whistleblower reprisal.

"Christopher Sharpley is not the permanent Inspector General because of brave whistleblowers willing to publicize his office's problems. In a community clouded by darkness, these whistleblowers provided a light and made a difference," said Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst for the Government Accountability Project, which also represents government whistleblowers.

"We're looking forward to the President confirming an independent replacement with integrity. It's time for someone to right the ship," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 343505

Reported Deaths: 7543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23932444
DeSoto23229283
Harrison20527329
Rankin15411291
Jackson15232252
Madison10959227
Lee10719179
Jones9047169
Forrest8723159
Lauderdale7884244
Lowndes7054151
Lamar702989
Lafayette6548124
Washington5595139
Pearl River5196152
Bolivar4954134
Oktibbeha494398
Panola4771112
Warren4728128
Marshall4701106
Pontotoc447773
Union433279
Monroe4330137
Neshoba4281181
Hancock428088
Lincoln4176116
Pike3667113
Leflore3627125
Tate353388
Alcorn350974
Sunflower347694
Scott341176
Adams340988
Yazoo339376
Copiah324968
Simpson322891
Itawamba314680
Coahoma314085
Tippah306568
Prentiss298863
Covington293484
Leake285475
Marion284181
Wayne277543
George272251
Grenada269488
Newton262364
Tishomingo239770
Winston236784
Jasper230648
Stone229637
Attala226373
Chickasaw219060
Holmes200174
Clay197654
Clarke186880
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181332
Smith179235
Yalobusha171540
Walthall145748
Lawrence142826
Greene140134
Amite137543
Noxubee135235
Perry133538
Montgomery133044
Carroll126431
Webster121232
Jefferson Davis116734
Tunica114227
Benton106725
Claiborne105331
Kemper102429
Humphreys100133
Franklin87923
Quitman84719
Choctaw82619
Wilkinson78032
Jefferson71328
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 585607

Reported Deaths: 11536
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson851431591
Mobile48584864
Madison37411533
Shelby27192257
Tuscaloosa27145465
Montgomery26119627
Baldwin25207329
Lee17184181
Calhoun15382334
Morgan15147291
Etowah14928370
Marshall13079235
Houston12021293
Elmore10890219
St. Clair10737252
Limestone10699158
Cullman10503205
Lauderdale10240254
DeKalb9498192
Talladega8935188
Walker7775288
Autauga7537114
Jackson7384117
Blount7352139
Colbert6691142
Coffee6342132
Dale5605117
Russell478943
Chilton4763117
Covington4738125
Franklin456681
Tallapoosa4511156
Escambia439283
Chambers3936125
Dallas3742163
Clarke370563
Marion3455107
Pike332079
Lawrence3257100
Winston298373
Bibb289765
Geneva282883
Marengo262267
Barbour250661
Pickens245262
Butler240172
Hale235178
Fayette226765
Henry212845
Monroe201541
Randolph200344
Cherokee198848
Washington184339
Macon169752
Crenshaw167758
Clay165659
Cleburne161145
Lamar150938
Lowndes145355
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh120632
Coosa118129
Perry110328
Sumter110333
Greene99137
Choctaw64425
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