In April 2015, well before the advent of the #MeToo movement, a senior FBI official assured Congress the bureau had a handle on sexual misconduct In the workplace. “The FBI does not tolerate sexual harassment or sexual misconduct,” then-Associate Director Kevin L. Perkins told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Less than a year later, the bureau’s top Russia counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, was reportedly entangled in an affair with Lisa Page, the counsel for the FBI’s deputy director, as the two played key roles in the Russia collusion investigation. Strzok eventually would be fired, and Page would resign in a controversy over their text messages.
While the “FBI lovebirds” — as conservatives once panned them — made headlines with their politically charged insults about Donald Trump on their government-issued phones, their relationship was a harbinger of far more extensive problems between the men and women of the FBI workplace, which ranged from other illicit relationships to stunning cases of boorish sexual harassment by supervisors.
The challenges have burst into full view in recent months with the release of several explosive investigative reports by the Justice Department inspector general. The latest came last Thursday, revealing an FBI assistant director violated agency policy by failing to timely report a romantic relationship with a subordinate.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz noted the romance involved more than a rules infraction, it disrupted the workplace.
“The OIG investigation also found that the Assistant Director allowed the relationship to negatively affect an appropriate and professional superior-subordinate relationship and to disrupt the workplace by interfering with the ability of other FBI employees to complete their work,” Horowitz wrote in his report.
He also raised concerns about the appearance of a conflict. “The Assistant Director participated in a hiring or organizational decision involving the subordinate, all in violation of FBI policy,” he noted.
Back in April, Horowitz released a stunning investigative report revealing that a senior FBI supervisor sexually harassed eight female subordinates in one of the bureau’s most egregious known cases of sexual misconduct. The supervisor was allowed to retire and was not further punished, despite findings that his colleagues found him to be a “skilled predator” who touched female employees inappropriately and solicited one for sex in a conference room.
The report described one female employee who told investigators she acquiesced to a sexual relationship with the boss for fear her career would be ruined if she didn’t. “He was in a powerful position, and she worried about what he would do if she did not respond to his advances,” the report noted.
The Associated Press late last year reported it had identified at least six cases of sexual assault or harassment by FBI supervisors, including an assistant FBI director who retired after he was accused of drunkenly groping a female subordinate in a stairwell, and a high-ranking FBI agent who was accused of blackmailing a young employee into sexual encounters.
News of misconduct has kept piling up since that report. Last month, an FBI agent in Louisiana was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct against juveniles under the age of 13.
Also last month, a female FBI agent in Las Vegas filed a federal lawsuit alleging her office operated like a boozed up “frat house” where a male superior solicited her for sex while another texted her a photo of a rainbow-colored sex toy.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Karen Veltri alleged in the suit she was sexually harassed by two supervisors — then retaliated against for reporting the abuse to several oversight bodies.
In March, the FBI agreed to pay a $1.2 million settlement to a current female FBI agent whose lawsuit alleged she was harassed and retaliated against by a squad of male colleagues.
And in January, Horowitz disclosed federal prosecutors declined charges against an FBI assistant special agent in charge after a probe confirmed he had engaged in “unwanted physical sexual contact with another FBI employee at an after-hours FBI social function” and previously made unwanted physical sexual contact with two other FBI employees.
While the bureau’s own boorish behavior has come to light, its failure to fully investigate sexual misconduct in a high-profile case also was laid bare in recent weeks.
Horowitz released a report July 14 that concluded the FBI made “fundamental” errors investigating sexual abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar and did not treat the case with the “utmost seriousness.”
As a result of slow and sloppy investigation, as many as 40 women and girls were molested between the time the bureau learned of the Nasser allegations and finally took action, the report said.
The FBI has acknowledged its failures in the case were “inexcusable and a discredit” to America’s premier law enforcement agency.
The problems, retired FBI agent Jane Turner recently wrote, date back decades. Turner blew the whistle on earlier FBI failures to investigate sex abuse on Indian reservations two decades earlier
“During this time, I discovered serious FBI misconduct in its handling of child abuse cases and was retaliated against for sharing my findings with the FBI headquarters,” she wrote in an email on behalf of the National Whistleblower Center. “The issues I see with the FBI today are the same I fought back against then.”
**By John Solomon