Sen. Charles E. Grassley grilled FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Wednesday about a proposal that Mr. Grassley said would have stripped protections for FBI whistleblowers, citing a report in The Washington Times that exposed the problem last month.
Mr. Mueller told Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, in an exchange during an oversight hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not know about plans to strip whistleblower protections for FBI workers and was unsure where they came from.
Mr. Grassley pressed Mr. Mueller to support a specific statute in the law currently protecting FBI whistleblowers, but the FBI director said he wouldn’t make any commitments without understanding the specific clause.
“I can’t do that now; I’m not really familiar with the issue,” said Mr. Mueller, adding that he broadly supports whistleblower protections.
The Senate version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a measure initially lauded by supporters as a major advance in protections for federal employees exposing waste and fraud, has been increasingly picked apart as the details of the measure have rolled out.
FBI whistleblowers who championed protections for national security and intelligence employees decried the measure last month when they learned that it would decrease some protections for FBI employees.
Senate sponsors and the White House, which had a close hand in drafting the Senate measure, have promised to restore the FBI protections to the bill, Mr. Grassley said. But he said he still wants to know who was responsible for the provision.
“In chasing down where this came from, some have said it came from the White House… . Others have directly stated it was done at the request of the FBI,” Mr. Grassley said. “I still want to know where it came from and why it came to be.”
Mr. Mueller said he would attempt to answer Mr. Grassley’s questions.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who has worked closely with Mr. Grassley on whistleblower protections in the past, backed Mr. Grassley’s efforts to press the agency over the whistleblower provisions.