A leaked government report on May 31 revealed that a “slimy” high-ranking FBI agent groped female subordinates and drank on the job.
Then the next day, prosecutors in Maryland charged a former FBI agent with attempted murder in the shooting of a man on a subway.
It was an embarrassing week for the FBI, whose image has been shattered in recent years by accusations of political bias. Now, as the FBI tries to shake off the political taint, it finds itself dealing with questions of competency.
“If [former] Director [J. Edgar] Hoover were still around, he would be appalled by this week’s news,” said David Stebenne, a professor at Ohio State University who has written books on the history of the FBI.
“An agency that doesn’t need more bad news stories about it now has more bad news stories about it,” he said.
Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee are expected to question FBI Director Christopher A. Wray about the misconduct when he testifies before them Thursday morning.
Mr. Wray also will face tough questions about how the FBI missed warning signs ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and about a subpoena seeking to identify readers of a USA Today news story about a Florida shooting.
The scandals have caused a crisis of credibility that could hurt the bureau’s public support and hinder its ability to catch crooks.
The number of convictions in FBI-led investigations has dropped in each of the past five years, totaling an 11% decline, according to data compiled by Syracuse University.
Mr. Stebenne said the fallout could even cause Congress to tighten the purse strings instead of providing additional funding the agency seeks to combat domestic terrorism and ransomware threats.
“The more its reputation is damaged, the harder it is to get resources because it undermines public support for the agency,” he said.
The bureau, which used to make headlines for collaring crooks, was in the press for all the wrong reasons in recent years.
The Trump administration began with the firing of Director James B. Comey and ended with a former FBI lawyer’s guilty plea to falsifying documents in the Russian collusion probe.
In between, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired for misleading investigators about media leaks, FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page exchanged anti-Trump banter while having an extramarital affair, and a scathing inspector general report found a slew of “inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s applications to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
As Mr. Wray tries to navigate the FBI away from political scandal, another series of self-inflicted wounds has emerged.
“Everything is amplified now because the FBI has come under the microscope as an agency that acted improperly in a purely political investigation,” said Kevin Brock, a former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI. “Every other thing that happens adds to the perception that the FBI might be a broken agency.”
An FBI spokeswoman said in a statement to The Washington Times that the bureau’s 37,000 employees have an “unparalleled dedication to justice, integrity and the rule of law.”
“Our dedication starts when each employee swears an oath on their first day on the job: to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” the statement said. “Every day thereafter, FBI employees are held to the highest standard because we cannot fulfill our mission without the public’s trust. The FBI will continue to hold employees accountable for any misconduct identified once the disciplinary process is complete.”
FBI Agents Association President Brian O’Hare said agents perform their duties with “integrity and professionalism.” The group, which advocates for current and retired agents, is supporting the agent charged in the subway shooting.
“The FBI holds itself to the highest ethical standards. It is important to note that the ratio of disciplinary issues among FBI agents is among the lowest in the federal government and private sector and incidents should be looked at in this context,” he said in a statement.
Since May 2020, the Justice Department’s inspector general has issued seven reports dinging officials and agents for misconduct.
The reports revealed rampant sexual harassment of female subordinates by male officials. One report found that a special agent in charge created a hostile work environment for a subordinate after their intimate relationship ended. Another report concluded that a unit chief promoted a subordinate while they had a relationship.
The FBI is fighting a lawsuit by female employees who say they have suffered from gender discrimination and harassment at its training academy in Quantico, Virginia. The bureau has denied the accusations in legal documents.
Mr. Brock said sexual harassment accusations at the bureau are not new but are embarrassing nonetheless.
“There have been other accusations and proven cases of this type of behavior over the last 70 years,” he said. “What is surprising is that given today’s environment and all the efforts the FBI has undertaken to quell this type of behavior, it still occurs.”
Other misconduct that the report revealed include:
• An agent lying to investigators about losing his concealed carry card. The agent had never been issued a card because his security clearance was suspended.
• An agent asking a supervisor to knowingly make inaccurate statements about evidence collection to the chain of command in an investigation.
• Supervisors retaliated against an analyst who should have been protected under the FBI’s whistleblower policies.
• An official was found to knowingly possess child pornography.
“We hire human beings for these jobs,” said Lewis Schiliro, a former head of the FBI‘s New York field office. “These things have existed since the bureau was formed, and that’s unfortunate because it does undermine the public trust.”
The back-to-back reports on May 31 and June 1 were particularly damaging to the FBI.
The May 31 leaked inspector general report substantiated three accusations of inappropriate touching of female subordinates by a supervisory assistant special agent in charge.
The G-man rubbed one woman’s “vagina and buttocks over her clothing with his hand on multiple occasions for a few seconds each time,” the report said.
The unidentified woman later texted a friend and called the incident “gross and creepy,” according to the report.
Another woman reported that the agent grabbed her buttocks and said “tell me that you want me,” the documents stated.
On June 1, prosecutors charged agent Eduardo Valdivia, 37, with attempted second-degree murder for a December shooting onboard a Washington Metro train after a five-month investigation by Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
Mr. McCarthy concluded that Mr. Valdivia overreacted.
“There never was any, any blows exchanged between the two of them, there were words exchanged between both. And at some point in time, the agent withdrew his weapon from his holster and the victim was in fact shot,” Mr. McCarthy said at a news conference.
Robert Bonsib, an attorney for Mr. Valdivia, said Steven Slaughter threatened his client after the two exchanged words on the subway.
“Eddie Valdivia’s opinion of the danger posed by Mr. Slaughter was properly and correctly based upon his training and experience dealing with violence,” Mr. Bonsib told CNN.
Mr. Brock, the former assistant director, said the incidents should persuade the FBI to review the way it hires people.
“I think this should be the starting point for the FBI: to take an honest and comprehensive look at their hiring practices and selection process,” he said. “These are positions that are highly sought-after. It is not like they need to settle for people with suspect personalities and capabilities. There is really no excuse for why the FBI can’t take the time to assess and eliminate individuals who have troubling personal habits.”