An old dispute between two CIA veterans — including one who worked with the whistleblower whose account of a phone call with Ukraine’s president triggered former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment — has resurfaced amid the Democrat-led House probe of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
David Buckley, the top Democrat staffer on the select committee investigating the insurrection, was a CIA inspector general 11 years ago — and prioritized probes that could lead to criminal prosecutions, Politico reported.
Whistleblower advocates warn his reputation could thwart potential witnesses from coming forward.
"I as a whistleblower attorney would definitely need to weigh the costs and benefits of recommending to a client that they go to this committee while David Buckley is the staff director," Kel McClanahan, a lawyer who represents national security whistleblowers, told Politico. "Especially if those clients are of the type that don’t have strong whistleblower protections, like Capitol Police or Intelligence Community employees."
Buckley’s past already has worked its way into the Jan. 6 probe because Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA IG office employee is now a whistleblower lawyer representing two of the four law enforcement officers who testified at the select panel’s first hearing.
Since leaving the CIA, Bakaj has worked with congressional whistleblowers — including the still-anonymous person who recounted the Trump phone call with Ukraine’s president, Politico noted.
But Democrats are digging in on Buckley’s choice.
"David Buckley has served this country for more than 30 years to protect American security and democracy, and he’ll continue to do so on the Select Committee’s staff," said Tim Mulvey, a spokesman for Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel, told Politico.
"The years-old situation conveniently resurfacing now dealt with possibly unlawful handling of information that could have jeopardized one of the CIA IG’s most important and sensitive investigations in recent years," he added. "Mr. Buckley did his job to protect the integrity of that effort, and since these events unfolded, a federal court has ruled that the precise sort of action he took does not constitute retaliation."
House Republicans, who have blasted the Jan. 6 investigation as partisan, aren’t so far getting involved in the old dustup between Buckley and Bakaj, Politico reported.
Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who represents Bakaj and has worked with him to represent other whistleblowers — including the one who triggered Trump’s first impeachment — told Politico committee’s defense of Buckley is troubling.
"The Committee’s defense of Buckley embarrassingly reveals that the Democrats’ support of the [Intelligence Community] whistleblower, who Andrew and I represented, was just a partisan exercise to get Trump," Zaid said. "Once a whistleblower issue conflicts with their political agenda, the whistleblower apparently gets sacrificed. Given this position, the Committee is continuing the illegal reprisal against Andrew."
The Buckley-Bakaj conflict began in 2007, when sales teams at multiple government contracting firms were showering perks on CIA officials, according to a whistleblower complaint filed in 2011. But for the contractors and CIA officials involved, the scheme ended badly when that whistleblower filed a lawsuit laying out the kickback allegations. The whistleblower's case was persuasive enough that the companies settled for $3 million.
However, the tumult created inside the CIA IG’s office included the watch dog’s decision not to investigate itself, turning it over instead to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s inspector general.
That review detailed multiple problems involving the management of evidence but did not find deliberate efforts to distort it, Politico reported, citing a copy it had obtained. The FHFA’s follow-up review sparked more fears in the intelligence community’s watchdog office, where some people worried it was an effort to identify the whistleblowers.
Bakaj later told officials in the inspector general’s office that he believed Buckley had targeted him because of his role in helping whistleblowers report the office’s mishandling of evidence.
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