- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Three leading Republicans and a key Democrat yesterday challenged the FBI to explain whether witnesses being questioned in an investigation into a double standard of discipline for senior bureau executives and rank-and-file agents were being intimidated and subjected to retaliation.

The bipartisan concern is outlined in a letter to Lee Colwell, retired FBI assistant director, who serves on a commission named by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to investigate accusations of discipline disparities, whistleblower retaliation and misconduct by senior bureau executives.

“Part of our concerns relate to the interview process, including the location of the interviews, the presence of FBI personnel during such interviews, and the lawyers retained to conduct interviews,” wrote Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the panel’s ranking Democrat; Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a senior committee member; and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“We want to emphasize that witnesses should be able to speak candidly and without fear of retaliation and that if the process leaves any doubt that witnesses have not been afforded an opportunity for complete candor, it will taint the results of the commission,” they said.

The lawmakers are concerned that senior FBI officials, including executives from Mr. Mueller’s office, have attended the interviews and that some interviews were conducted in the bureau’s Inspection Division, which “can be intimidating for agents who fear, with good reason, reprisals for criticizing the status quo.”

The commission’s inquiry, which began in May, targeted the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and focused on accusations that separate, less harsh discipline was reserved for senior executives while tougher sanctions were being handed out to rank-and-file agents. It also targeted concerns of retaliation by the bureau against FBI whistleblowers.

The inquiry came in the wake of a November report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which said the bureau “suffered and still suffers from a strong, and not unreasonable, perception among employees that a double standard exists” within the FBI.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that perception was fostered by a dual system of discipline in which senior FBI executives were judged in pending discipline matters only by other senior executives.

He cited “several troubling cases” in which discipline imposed on executives “appeared unduly lenient and less severe” than that for rank-and-file agents and other employees.

Yesterday’s letter described the accusations as “very serious,” noting that the perception of a double standard of discipline within the FBI had led to an erosion of public confidence as well as a decline in bureau morale.

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