A leaked government report Monday revealed a “slimy” high-ranking FBI agent groped female subordinates and drank on the job.
Then on Tuesday, prosecutors in Maryland charged a former FBI agent with attempted murder for shooting a man on a Washington subway.
It was an embarrassing week for the FBI, which in recent years has had its image shattered amid allegations 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 authored 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 continued.
The scandals have caused a crisis of credibility for the bureau, which could impact its public support and hinder its ability to catch crooks.
Convictions in FBI-led investigations have dropped in each of the last five years, totaling an 11% decline during that period, according to data compiled by Syracuse University.
Mr. Stebenne said the fallout could even cause Congress to tighten the purse strings as the bureau seeks additional funds 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 former Director James B. Comey and ended with an ex-FBI lawyer pleading guilty to falsifying documents in the Russian collusion probe.
In between, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired for misleading investigators about media leaks; FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were exchanging anti-Trump banter while having an extra-marital affair: and a scathing inspector general report found a slew of “inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s applications to monitor Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
As FBI Director Christopher A. Wray tries to navigate the agency away from political scandal, another series of self-inflicted wounds have 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, 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 that agents perform their duties with “integrity and professionalism.” The group, which advocates for current and retired agents, is providing support to 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.
Between May 2020 and June 2021, the Justice Department Inspector General has issued seven reports dinging officials and agents for misconduct. Over the same period, only the Federal Bureau Prisons had more misconduct incidents, racking up three.
The FBI IG 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 the intimate relationship ended. Another report concluded that a unit chief promoted a subordinate while they had a relationship.
The FBI is currently fighting a lawsuit by female employees alleging gender discrimination and harassment at its training academy in Quantico, Virginia. It has denied the accusations in legal documents.
Mr. Bock said allegations of sexual harassment are not new at the bureau, but 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.”
The inspector general reports weren’t just limited to reports of sexual harassment.
Other misconduct revealed in the reports include:
• An agent lying to investigators about losing his concealed carry card, when in fact he had never been issued one 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.
• Another official was found to knowingly possess child pornography.
“We hire human beings for these jobs,” said Lewis Schirilo, the 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.”
This week was particularly damaging to the FBI.
A leaked inspector general report Monday substantiated three allegations 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, calling the incident “gross and creepy,” according to the report.
Another woman alleged her buttocks was grabbed by the agent, who said to her, “tell me that you want me,” the documents stated.
The next day prosecutors charged an agent with attempted second-degree murder for a December 2020 shooting onboard a Washington subway train.
The charges were against Eduardo Valdivia, 37, 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, a lawyer for Mr. Valdivia, said his client was threatened by Steven Slaughter. He said Mr. Slaughter got in his client’s face 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 agent, said the incidents should cause the FBI to review how they are hiring employees.
“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.”