An attorney who left the CIA in 2014 after facing professional retaliation for trying to work with intelligence community whistleblowers is now representing the U.S. official who reportedly filed a complaint alleging wrongdoing by President Trump.
Andrew Bakaj, a national security attorney working for Compass Rose Legal Group, a Washington national security law firm, has taken on the still unidentified whistleblower as his newest client, according to information first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by Yahoo News.
On Aug. 12, an anonymous U.S. official filed a complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General, a watchdog in charge of investigations into fraud, abuse, waste and illegal acts for employees working in the intelligence agencies.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that the complaint deals with President Trump’s communications with a foreign official, a concern the Inspector General Michael Atkinson flagged as “credible” and “urgent.”
Last Friday evening, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., subpoenaed the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who President Trump recently appointed to replace Dan Coats. Coats’s relationship with the president soured after the intelligence chief made public statements in defense of the intelligence community against White House attacks.
Coats left his post on Aug. 15, just days after the whistleblower filed his complaint.
While little is known about the anonymous official who made the allegation, Bakaj himself became a whistleblower in 2014, a fact revealed in a recent story by Yahoo News. Bakaj had reported reported his colleagues’ concerns about evidence tampering within the CIA watchdog office to the Intelligence Community Inspector General. That office, after reviewing the concerns, immediately referred them to the FBI.
The CIA, however, put Bakaj on indefinite administrative leave and suspended his security clearance. As he was walked out of the office, security personnel put yellow police tape on his office door and combination locks.
After months of waiting, Bakaj decided to leave government and enter private practice focusing on other national security whistleblowers.
On Aug. 8, more than five years after first blowing the whistle, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general vindicated Bakaj, confirming that his superiors launched a “retaliatory investigation” into his activities because of his actions and his protection of colleagues.
Bakaj’s case reverberated after he left the CIA. In July 2018, acting CIA Inspector General Christopher Sharpley withdrew his nomination and resigned from the CIA following revelations that he had misled Congress about ongoing complaints of retaliation against him by Bakaj and his former colleague Jonathan Kaplan.
Bakaj is well placed to defend the Trump whistleblower, according to Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst for the Government Accountability Project, a transparency organization.
“Andrew’s dedicated his career to bettering the lives of whistleblowers. He has a respect for the system he helped create and implement when he was on the inside,” said McCullough.
Bakaj authored the regulations the CIA is required to follow to comply with President Barack Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 19, designed to protect intelligence community whistleblowers with access to classified information.
Bakaj has so far declined to discuss the case, keeping his client’s identity secret.
Congress, meanwhile, is trying to pry loose the details of this new complaint. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, after hours of a closed door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, reportedly declined to share any further details.
However, those familiar with the laws governing the inspector general say the administration won’t be able to keep the complaint from Congress indefinitely.
According to a newly released letter from Rep. Adam Schiff sent to acting DNI Maguire on Wednesday, an open hearing originally scheduled for next Thursday will be postponed for one week.
“It’s a blow to any [inspector general’s] credibility when they defer to their agency head’s lawyers on whistleblowing cases,” said McCullough of the Government Accountability Project. “That’s not how the process is supposed to work, especially when the [intelligence community inspector general] has his own general counsel who should be telling him these things.”
“I’m afraid this deference will create a chilling effect that discourages whistleblowers from coming to the watchdog in the future,” he said.
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