Trump Hates Leaks, But Some Federal Whistleblowers Love Him

Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci’s meltdown Wednesday night over the surreptitious release of his public financial disclosure form was hardly the first time the Trump White House has gone ballistic about “leakers.” President Donald Trump himself has set the tone, repeatedly complaining publicly and privately about White House leaks to the media, threatening to punish them with unspecified criminal legal action.

But when it comes to whistleblowers who are not leaking against him personally, the Trump administration’s anti-government, the anti-bureaucracy stance has had a much different impact, according to the nation’s largest whistleblower support organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“President Trump’s intolerance against dissent for him speaks for itself,” GAP Legal Director Tom Devine tells Newsweek. “But, on the other hand, he has made outstanding appointments so far to whistleblower agencies that enforce free speech rights in the federal bureaucracy. He campaigned as a citizen whistleblower against abuses of power by government bureaucracies, and many whistleblowers did support him.”

Whistleblowers Backing Trump

One of those whistleblowers is Transportation Security Administration Air Marshal Robert MacLean, who has been engaged in a years-long battle with the agency over retaliation he experienced after he revealed that the TSA had abruptly yanked air marshals off long-haul flights in 2003—when the threat of suicide hijackers remained critical—to save money on overnight hotels.

The TSA came under heavy criticism for the decision within 24 hours of Maclean’s tip to a reporter and quickly rescinded it. Three years later, after discovering he was the source of the leak, the agency fired MacLean. We recommend this site for more information on this link

MacLean’s case against the TSA for retaliation made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 in his favor. He is still an air marshal but says he continues to be harassed, including being assigned to sit in an empty room, and has been reimbursed for only half of the pay he lost during the years after he was fired for publicizing the TSA decision. A father of three, he says he is nearly broke but has high hopes for Trump, and he blames Hillary Clinton for not supporting him in his fight against the TSA.

“I’d say everybody in my federal whistleblower community voted for Trump, including myself,” he tells Newsweek. “All of us see Mr. Trump as a whistleblower himself.”

The Obama administration took a notoriously punitive stand against whistleblowers who leaked classified national security information. Besides prosecuting and jailing U.S. Army leaker Chelsea Manning, who shared thousands of classified documents with WikiLeaks, including raw video footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down reporters and civilians in Iraq, the feds jailed a former CIA analyst, John Kiriakou, over his revelations about torture.

The federal Whistleblower Protection Act protects an employee who discloses information revealing, among other things, “a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.” The law exempts employees from protection if the disclosure is “specifically prohibited by law.”

Classified information generally falls under that exemption.

But financial disclosure forms like the one newly appointed Trump communications director Scaramucci filed—which revealed he still stands to reap millions from his hedge fund while employed at the White House—are not classified. But they can be embarrassing.

On Twitter late Wednesday night, Scaramucci threatened to alert the Department of Justice and, cryptically, also tweeted at White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leading to rampant speculation that he blames the former Republican Party operative for the public airing of his financial information. He called the leak “a felony,” then subsequently deleted the tweet. Scaramucci said on CNN Thursday morning that he didn’t mean to single out Priebus as a leaker.

‘Rules Are Still Rigged’

The GAP holds its two-day annual Whistleblower Summit on Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C., with speakers including U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings and staff from Senator Charles Grassley’s office, as well as lawyers and other officials tasked to protect whistleblowers in the federal government.

As part of the summit, more than 50 whistleblowers and 29 non-governmental organizations signed a letter to Trump and Congress on how to “drain the swamp” of government bureaucracies by adding further safeguards to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. “Despite significant improvements on paper, in terms of enforcing the rules are still rigged against whistleblowers.”

The letter states: “We heard your pledge to drain the swamp with hope because all of us have risked our professional lives to challenge government abuses of power. After your victory, we will be on duty in the swamp helping to drain it. However, we think you will agree there are a lot of snakes and alligators here. Entrenched government bureaucracies are highly skilled at eliminating any threat to their power. Your leadership will be essential for us to carry out your mandate.”

The organization made four main recommendations aimed at enhancing the law: allowing whistleblowers jury trials (currently they are limited to administrative adjudication); stronger protection against retaliation and harassment on the job, which has gotten worse since the 2012 act made it more difficult to fire whistleblowers; relief during the long cases, which typically last five years and leave whistleblowers without income; and a formal discipline system for “bureaucratic bullies” who harass whistleblowers.

The White House is not known to be sending any of its own leakers to the conference.

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SEC to Announce Largest SEC Whistleblower Award to Date

The SEC Whistleblower Office is set to announce its largest SEC whistleblower award to date – more than $61 million to two J.P. Morgan whistleblowers. Under the SEC’s whistleblower program, whistleblowers are eligible for awards when they provide original information to the SEC that leads to successful SEC enforcement actions, or related successful actions, resulting in monetary sanctions more than $1,000,000. A whistleblower may receive an award of between 10 to 30 percent of the monetary sanctions collected.

According to the SEC’s preliminary award determination, the whistleblowers’ tips caused the SEC and CFTC to open enforcement actions against J.P. Morgan for steering clients to its own proprietary investment products without properly disclosing this preference. J.P. Morgan agreed to settle these charges for $267 million with the SEC and $40 million with the CFTC.

The SEC’s Claims Review Staff recommended that two whistleblowers receive an award, one receiving 18% of the monetary sanctions collected and the other receiving 5%. The preliminary determination did not specify whether the awards would be based on the $267 million in fines assessed by the SEC, or if the awards would also include the CFTC’s $40 million penalties. Based on only the $267 million fine, one whistleblower would receive an award of $48 million, and the other would receive an award of nearly $13.5 million. This award of more than $61 million would far exceed the previous largest SEC whistleblower award of $30 million.

The monetary sanctions that the SEC employs to calculate a whistleblower awards includes “any money, including penalties, disgorgement, and interest, ordered to be paid and any money deposited into a disgorgement fund or other fund pursuant to Section 308(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (15 U.S.C. 7246(b)) because of a Commission action or a related action.”

Six whistleblowers applied for an award related to the enforcement action against J.P. Morgan. The SEC must develop a record for the award determination of each applicant. Applicants can appeal the SEC’s determination in the United States Court of Appeals within 30 days of the final decision being issued. This is likely the main reason for the lengthy delay in issuing whistleblower awards related to an enforcement action that settled in December 2015.

How the SEC Determines Award Percentage

Many factors affect the amount of an award. The SEC may increase the amount of an award based on the following factors:

The significance of the whistleblower’s tip to the success of any proceeding brought against wrongdoers.

The extent of the assistance that the whistleblower and their legal representative provided in the SEC action or related action.

The SEC’s law-enforcement interest in deterring the specific violation.

Whether, and the extent to which, the whistleblower participated in their company’s internal compliance and reporting systems.

Conversely, the SEC may reduce the amount of an award based on these considerations:

If the whistleblower participated in or was culpable for, the securities-law violation(s) they reported.

If the whistleblower unreasonably delayed reporting the violation(s) to the SEC.

If the whistleblower interfered with their company’s internal compliance and reporting systems.

Largest SEC Whistleblower Awards to Date

The SEC issued its second-largest award, $30 million, to an anonymous whistleblower on September 22, 2014. The third- and fourth-largest awards to date are $22 million, issued in August 2016, and $20 million, awarded in November 2016.

Prior to the J.P. Morgan whistleblowers’ awards, the SEC issued more than $154 million in awards to whistleblowers. In 2016 alone, the SEC Whistleblower Office awarded more than $57 million in to whistleblowers, including six of the ten largest whistleblower awards in the program’s history. Moreover, whistleblower tips enabled the SEC to recover nearly $1 billion in monetary sanctions from wrongdoers. It certainly appears that the SEC Whistleblower Program is now firing on all cylinders.

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Whistleblower Case Shows How Trump Tries to Silence Science

For the first time since the Trump administration came to office and began dismantling the key science underpinnings of federal climate policy, a senior agency official has invoked the protections of the whistleblower law to publicly object to what he calls an illegal attempt to intimidate him.

The official, Joel Clement, had been the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Interior Department before he says he was arbitrarily reassigned to an obscure accounting post to punish him for speaking up about protections for native Americans in Alaska. He says that was ordered by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to force him to be quiet or quit—and to send a message.

Clement, who publicized his formal complaint in a commentary published Wednesday in the Washington Post, said his case is not an isolated example but part of a pattern.

“It’s been a difficult few months for those of us on the inside,” he told InsideClimate News in an interview. “This administration has abused a long list of rules and procedures to purge scientists and experts that don’t agree with their political views. We need to work together strategically to end these abuses or the health and safety of more Americans will be at risk.”

After Clement went public with his experience, eight U.S. senators wrote to the deputy inspector general of the Department of Interior and requested an investigation into reports that as many as 50 senior employees at the department had been arbitrarily reassigned.

“We believe that any reassignment of highly trained, highly competent senior executives within the department from the positions in which they may best use their training and competence to accomplish the department’s mission and best serve the public interest to sinecures where their talents are wasted would constitute a serious act of mismanagement, a gross waste of public funds, and an abuse of authority,” the senators wrote on June 24.

On Thursday, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a detailed report running through a long list of actions the advocacy group says shows the pattern at work. The selection of top officials who dispute the mainstream consensus on the urgency of climate action, the reassignments of career officials and outside advisors, the proposed budget cuts to dismantle climate and other science-related offices while others are left empty, the revisions to published Web pages on the subject, and the attempts to roll back Obama era regulations and policies are all part of a common agenda.

“This is a new era in which political interference in science is more likely and more frequent and will present serious risks to the health and safety of the American people,” the report’s authors wrote.

“Right out of the gate, we saw actions being taken,” said Gretchen Goldman, one of the report’s authors. “By our count, there’s something we would consider an attack on science every four days in this administration. Even I was surprised at just much we have found.”

The result is a hostile atmosphere for federal agency scientists. If the Office of Special Counsel upholds Clement’s rights as a federal employee, he will be able to stay in office, speak freely to sympathetic lawmakers, and communicate to the public and the press without facing retribution.

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said Clement’s whistleblower arguments could face some challenges. Trump’s nominee to the head the Office of Special Counsel, who would likely decide Clement’s case, is also headed for a confirmation vote soon.

At a Congressional hearing with several Trump appointees one day after Clement’s announcement, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) raised concerns about the reassignment of scientists in the Interior Department. “It’s a lot of confusion and, in my sense, a lot of undermining science,” she said. Cantwell and seven colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee requested the investigation a few days later.

Clement told ICN he’s not sure what will happen. “I can’t possibly predict what they’ll do,” he said.

“I hope this inspires other civil servants to speak up,” Clement said. He has spent his career working in science and policy, starting out as a forest ecologist before working on public lands and water issues at a private foundation. Clement was hired nearly seven years ago by the Interior Department, where his work focused on the intersection of climate science and public lands. That’s part of why his reassignment to an accounting position—one that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies—was particularly baffling.

“I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

“As soon as I was reassigned, I thought it was obviously fishy,” he told ICN. “When Zinke testified the next week that they were going to use reassignments to trim the workforce, then you could really smell a rat.”

“There’s been a malign neglect—anything that relates to this stuff, there’s nobody there to support it. There are only people there to question it,” Clement said in the interview. “The default position to anything we work on has been, ‘Why?’ And if there’s any connection to the Obama administration, it’s that it must be undone.”

Trump Tactics for Muzzling Science

The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists describes tactics it says are used by Donald Trump’s administration and Congress “to diminish the role of science in our democracy.” In addition to discussing ways science has been misrepresented by the administration, it documents administration efforts to:

Sideline independent science advisors, such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to end the service of many members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors.

Restrict scientists’ communication. The report notes that one of the administration’s first actions was to issue a gag order on EPA and Agriculture Department employees and that the Department of Energy Office of International Climate and Clean Energy in March banned staff from using the phrases “climate change” and “Paris agreement” in communications.

Alter scientific content on government websites and reduce public access to data. The report highlights the removal of climate data from the government’s open portal website. A program coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey also recently warned colleagues that the administration’s proposed 2018 budget would reduce or eliminate the availability of some data.

Appoint people to scientific leadership positions who have the little scientific background or strong ties to industries they would be regulating. The latest example was announced on Wednesday when Trump named Iowa talk radio host Sam Clovis, whose background is in politics and business economics and who has described climate change as “junk science,” to the Department of Agriculture’s top scientific post. The position is tasked with ensuring “scientific integrity” in the department.

The report also describes the creation of hostile environments for scientific staff.

“Evidence is growing that a culture of fear is increasing at government agencies, undermining scientific research and communication. Scientists are speaking to the media anonymously out of fear of retaliation; some are afraid to utter the words ‘climate change’,” the report says.

The report points out that while Trump has appointed opponents of strong climate action to many key posts, the administration has left key science positions empty.

“We risk reducing the role of science in policymaking by decades, just when science is more important than ever in addressing global challenges—from keeping our air and water clean and staving off global pandemics to mitigating and preparing for the effects of climate change,” the authors wrote.

Ignoring Climate Change Won’t Make It Go Away

For a while, Clement said he thought work related to adaptation and resilience might be safe from the politics—that the administration’s ire might focus more on regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions.

Then the president rescinded the North Bering Sea Climate Resilience Executive Order. The purpose of that order, issued by President Obama, was to increase consultation with Alaska native groups on an issue that impact them, to require protections from increased shipping, and to prohibit oil, gas, and mineral leasing in certain areas.

“That’s when it occurred to a lot of us that maybe climate resilience and adaptation are in the crosshairs,” Clement said.

Clement says the problems facing Alaskans are all too real.

“American lives are at risk. I really worry about the coming storm system. I have for the last several years. I feel like every year we dodge a bullet,” he said. Now that the administration has signaled that these communities are not a priority, Clement said he worries more.

“Of all the climate adaptation and resilience things,” he said, “this is the most pressing: The possibility that these communities could become refugees here in the U.S. It’s not something I want to think about.”

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