In Push for FBI Director James Comey's Trump Memos, Congress Must Protect Whistleblowers

Statement of Danielle Brian,
Project On Government Oversight, Executive Director

News reports that FBI Director James Comey documented President Trump's attempt to improperly influence FBI investigations raise serious concerns about the President and the rule of law.

The success of any investigation depends upon the ability of Congressional and Justice Department investigators to speak to all relevant witnesses, even vulnerable employees, without fear that their superiors will threaten them into silence. Congress needs to vigorously push back against attempts to chill whistleblowers and hinder investigations. Under current laws, insiders who are aware of classified information of illegality have few--if any--meaningful options to stop it. The public deserves to know about the real issues, and resources should be focused on discovering the truth, not on intimidating those who expose wrongdoing.

Congress needs to fulfill its constitutional obligation to oversee the executive branch by vigorously investigating these and related issues. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee have taken important steps by requesting the Comey memos from the FBI. The Project On Government Oversight applauds these key oversight committees for pursuing these documents and Chairman Chaffetz for his request to the Justice Department Inspector General last week that they investigate the circumstances surrounding President Trump's firing of Comey. We hope these investigations will result in meaningful reforms so intelligence agency whistleblowers can safely report illegalities to Congress in the future.

These actions, including the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaing President Trump’s first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, are important steps. However, congressional investigations, especially that of the Senate Intelligence Committee, need to be staffed up properly. And Congress should consider whether a special investigative committee needs to be formed given the gravity of the allegations.

It is apparent that the public needs more confidence in any Justice Department investigation that could impact the White House. A special counsel should be appointed by the Deputy Attorney General immediately and insulated as much as possible from the political chain of command within the Department. There are growing bipartisan calls in Congress for just such a special counsel.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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