The Defense Department’s top watchdog has launched an investigation of the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman to determine whether she mistreated staff members or retaliated against them after they raised concerns, according to six current and former Pentagon officials familiar with the situation.
Dana W. White, the main spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has been under investigation by the Defense Department inspector general since May, when at least two complaints were filed against her, the officials said. The review, first reported Tuesday by CNN, focuses at least in part on how staff members carried out personal tasks for her, such as retrieving her dry cleaning, getting her lunch and driving her to work during a snowstorm.
People familiar with the situation said they are worried that if they also raise concerns about White’s decisions, they themselves will face retaliation. At least five staff members have been abruptly transferred or removed from their jobs since she took over in April 2017, and others said they have questions about the moves but kept quiet for fear of becoming a target themselves. They spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing those concerns.
Two people who raised concerns about requests that White made of her staff were transferred to other offices in May, and filed complaints shortly afterward. One of them had been asked to carry out personal tasks, while the other was a senior staff member who advocated to have the practice stopped, two people familiar with the case said.
White, who is traveling this week with Mattis in South America, did not respond to a request for comment. Officials in the Pentagon’s press operations office declined to comment, citing the open investigation. Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Defense Department inspector general, also declined to comment.
One official who acknowledged being interviewed by the inspector general said that at least some staff members volunteered to run errands on White’s behalf. However, Pentagon policy states that senior officials may not direct a subordinate staff member to do personal favors on their behalf while on duty even if he or she does not object to the request.
The situation renews attention on how the Defense Department carries out public affairs at a time of unusual friction with the Pentagon press corps. White has not briefed the news media in the Pentagon briefing room since May, and off-camera media engagements with other defense officials also have dwindled. Defense officials say the Pentagon typically holds an off-camera briefing with media each Monday and one on camera each Thursday, but that has not been the case in months.
White, whose formal title is assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, joined the Trump administration despite criticizing President Trump in the past as an “egomaniac” and “narcissist” in televised comments, as the conservative Daily Caller reported last year. In appearances at that time, White said she thought Republicans should help Trump win because he was the Republican presidential nominee.
White previously has worked as a publicist in several locations, including for Fox News, and as a staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She also served as a foreign policy adviser on the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and worked as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Missy Ryan contributed to this report.