Trump Pentagon official created toxic work environment, watchdog says

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A former Trump official at the Pentagon created a toxic work environment while at the helm of a department office, according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report released Wednesday.

The Pentagon received complaints in December 2020 about Michael Cutrone, who served as principal deputy and then the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from May 2020 to January 2021.

One complaint said that Cutrone “made two employees cry, berated and yelled at employees,” according to the report. Two days later, the Pentagon referred two additional complaints to the inspector general that alleged Cutrone “verbally abused” subordinates.

“An overwhelming majority of the subordinates we interviewed provided specific examples of Mr. Cutrone’s actions or behaviors that they said negatively affected the work environment in the [International Security Affairs] office,” the report read.

“We determined that Mr. Cutrone’s harassing behavior was not limited to a single incident, but instead was a repeated, recurring, unwelcome and offensive course of conduct. His behavior ... adversely affected the work environment of his subordinates,” the report added.

Cutrone was appointed by then-President Donald Trump to leadership positions in the international security office due to his “undisputed allegiance” to the president, the Washington Post reported. In a response prior to the report’s release, Cutrone said the IG did not “understand and consider the appropriate context” of the work environment.

The IG findings come as a number of former Pentagon officials have been the subject of investigations. Last December, an IG report found Brig. Gen. Jonathan Howerton, who led the White House Military Office under Trump, used vulgar language and gestures during his tenure, while potentially failing to follow government travel regulations for expenses.

In January, the IG also found then-Pentagon comptroller Douglas Glenn made sexually suggestive comments to subordinates, used the N-word and drank alcohol at work without authorization.

The IG interviewed 31 employees within the International Security Affairs office about Cutrone’s actions during the course of his leadership. Four of those interviewed offered positive descriptions of Cutrone’s management, but all 31 employees, including the four who gave Cutrone positive remarks, did offer criticism.

“[Cutrone] had a huge temper,” one anonymous witness said in the report. “It was very common for him to fly off the handle and get heated if he didn’t like the way something was going in a way that I thought was inappropriate.”

“He was an emotional roller coaster,” another witness told investigators. “You never knew what mood he was going to be in. He would raise his voice regularly.”

Ten witnesses said they either witnessed another employee being scolded by Cutrone or were yelled at by him directly. In one incident, a witness contacted a political appointee directly instead of going through proper channels. When Cutrone heard of the communication error, he asked the witness if they were “f**king stupid,” according to the report.

Cutrone, according to the report, also made employees become emotional during certain interactions. Thirteen employees told investigators that Cutrone caused them or others to cry after interactions. The report mentions one specific incident in which Cutrone threatened to punish two employees for coordinating his travel schedule with another Pentagon official. That incident, according to witness testimony, highlighted Cutrone’s approach of punishing employees for conducting everyday business within the office.

During the investigation, the IG received information that Cutrone stored and consumed alcohol within the Pentagon without written permission. Cutrone said he did consume alcohol in his office, but he told investigators that he thought Pentagon officials of his rank were allowed to consume alcohol in the building without written approval.

Among the recommendations in the report, the IG noted that the Washington Headquarters Service should reissue and publicize guidance on alcohol consumption within the building. Cutrone resigned from the government over two years ago.