New memos raise alarming questions about whether politics influenced probe into Obama appointee
Disciplinary agency for federal inspectors general withheld damning report on Obama-appointed official for 15 months until after Trump left office.
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The body that polices the behavior of federal agency watchdogs drafted a report by September 2019 that accused the Federal Housing Finance Agency's inspector general of whistleblower retaliation, witness intimidation and staff abuse but withheld its final action for 15 months until after President Donald Trump left office, according to newly released reports to Congress.
The revelation this week is the latest twist in the case of FHFA Inspector General Laura Werthheimer, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and whose husband is a Democratic donor. Wertheimer's conduct was first flagged five years ago by whistleblowers in a case that dragged on, frustrating members of Congress like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and defying a speedy resolution to complaints of a hostile workplace where employees complained of being belittled for their physical attributes as well as their work performance.
The new documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Empower Oversight whistleblower group, are raising questions about whether politics influenced a supposedly neutral process conducted by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's Integrity Committee, the disciplinary arm of the inspector general community.
"These new documents raise important questions about why it looks like the folks who were supposed to be watching the watchdogs failed to report their findings of whistleblower retaliation at the FHFA OIG to the Trump White House," Empower Oversight President Jason Foster said.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency's Integrity Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Just the News.
The Integrity Committee received complaints from whistleblowers in the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG) more than five years ago. The committee didn't begin reviewing them until 2017.
On April 14 of this year, the committee sent its 29-page report to President Joe Biden, providing justification for Wertheimer's ouster. Wertheimer objected to some of the IG report findings, suggesting they rested on a "handful of complaints and some stray comments reported by several anonymous individuals."
Biden didn't fire Wertheimer, but she announced her resignation at the end of June.
According to the Integrity Committee's report to Biden, Wertheimer "abused her authority" and "showed a disdain and resistance towards Congressional and [Integrity Committee] oversight by fostering a culture of witness intimidation through a pattern of staff abuse and fear of retaliation," in addition to "wrongfully refus[ing] to cooperate with the [Integrity Committee's] investigation by denying investigators full access" to her office's documents and personnel.
When the Integrity Committee's investigations aren't completed in 150 days, they must report their reasons to Congress. There is a major gap in the records for the Wertheimer probe, according to the congressional reports that were newly released to Empower.
The investigation, designated as case no. 912, was mentioned in the committee's Sept. 10, 2019 report to Congress. "For case number 912, the IC needs this time to review the draft report of investigation prior to sending it to the subjects for comment," it said.
From October 2019 through December 2020, the committee didn't mention the investigation into Werthheimer in its reports, despite discussing it in earlier and later reports.
The next time the investigation is mentioned is in the committee's Jan. 14, 2021 report, where it appears the investigation has been completed: "The IC is also notifying you that case numbers 912, 964, 989, 1017, and 20-035 are in post-investigation review by the respondent and the IC." And then Biden received the final report three months later.
"Based on the record so far, there is no legitimate explanation for CIGIE's Integrity Committee sitting on its findings until three months into the Biden administration," Foster said. "The public has a right to know whether politics improperly infected the Integrity Committee process and Empower Oversight will keep fighting for access to documents to shed more sunlight on how that process was allowed to fail whistleblowers for so long."
Wertheimer's husband, Andrew Pincus, donated over $15,000 in total to Biden Victory Fund and Biden For President, according to FEC records. He has also donated thousands of dollars to other Democratic campaigns and funds, including Raphael Warnock's and Jon Ossoff's Senate campaigns in Georgia, ActBlue, and Hillary Clinton's 2016 and 2008 presidential races.
Pincus is the chairman of the board of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which is "a think tank, law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of our Constitution's text and history."