ATF Whistle-Blower Alleges Backlash
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Edgar A. Domenech says he thought Justice Department officials would welcome information about mismanagement at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Instead, the 23-year ATF veteran says, Justice officials ignored his complaints and later retaliated against him by demoting him, denying him a bonus and attempting to give him a poor job review.
"I realized I was committing career suicide at the time, but I felt I had a moral obligation as the deputy director to protect the agency and the men and women of the agency," Domenech said in an interview yesterday. "In retrospect, I was naive to believe that the department would welcome my honesty."
Domenech filed a 13-page complaint yesterday with the Office of Special Counsel, saying that ATF and the Justice Department punished him for raising questions about the performance of former ATF director Carl J. Truscott, who resigned in August 2006 while under investigation for alleged financial mismanagement.
Domenech, who was second-in-command at ATF for four years, said his complaints about Truscott beginning in late 2005 were ignored or played down by aides to then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales because Truscott had ties to the White House. Truscott headed President Bush's Secret Service detail before taking over ATF.
Spokesmen for ATF and the Justice Department declined to comment on Domenech's allegations. The ATF spokesmen said they had not seen the complaint and could not discuss personnel issues.
An October 2006 report by the Justice Department's inspector general largely confirmed complaints by Domenech and other ATF senior executives. It determined that Truscott had engaged in a wide-ranging pattern of questionable expenditures on a new ATF headquarters, personal security and other items. The report also said that Truscott improperly forced employees to help his nephew prepare a high school video project and required female employees to serve lunch to guests.
In the complaint, Domenech's Washington attorney, Debra S. Katz, outlined actions by the Justice Department and ATF that she alleged are violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Domenech said ATF's acting director, Michael J. Sullivan, and other officials have taken actions meant to punish him for raising questions about Truscott. The moves include transferring him out of headquarters and excluding him from meetings and duties that usually would be his responsibility.
He also alleged that, after years of outstanding job reviews and bonuses, he was given an average review in 2007, which was changed only after he complained. Because of the earlier review, however, he was denied a customary bonus, he said.
Domenech, who now heads ATF's Washington field office, drew comparisons between his case and the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. The federal prosecutors were told that they were being removed only to make room for new people. Sullivan gave Domenech a similar explanation when he demoted him, Domenech said.
Justice officials repeatedly played down Truscott's problems as head of ATF, and Sullivan even invited the former director to take part in ATF's annual award ceremony in August 2007, Domenech said.
Domenech first raised complaints about Truscott's performance in December 2005 with William Mercer, then principal associate deputy attorney general, who later would be a pivotal figure in the controversy over the dismissal of the federal prosecutors.
Mercer and another official said Truscott "appeared to be in over his head, but since his name came directly from the White House, there was little that could be done about the situation," according to the complaint. Several months later, Domenech said, Mercer dismissed complaints about Truscott as coming from "disgruntled career staff."
After Truscott left, Domenech reversed a decision by Truscott to include an engraved quotation from Bush at the entrance to the new ATF headquarters in Washington.