Washington, D.C. January 12, 2017. The U.S. Department of Justice manages many of America’s most important whistleblower programs, including the False Claims Act (“FCA”) anti-fraud law. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing of of President-Elect Trump’s nominee for Attorney General began on Tuesday. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Committee and long-time advocate of whistleblower rights, asked Sen. Jeff Sessions to confirm, on the record, his commitment to encouraging whistleblowers to step forward and to aggressively pursue fraud cases under the FCA.
In response to Sen. Grassley’s questions, Sen. Sessions pledged his support for the FCA and its whistleblower reward provisions, testifying that whistleblower rewards were “an effective method of rooting out fraud and abuse” and that the FCA “has saved this country lots of money.” Sessions also confirmed that prosecutions under the FCA were an effective deterrent on corrupt contractors because they “have to be more cautious because they can have a whistleblower that would blow the whistle on them if they try to do something that’s improper.”
Sen. Grassley then went on to ask “I hope you will give encouragement to whistleblowing and that you will listen to them. For the most part, these are patriotic people that want the government to do what the government is supposed to do.” “I hope you see them as a source, so you can administer a better department…In that regard, I would appreciate it if you would provide Congress with accurate and timely information regarding any action taken administrative or criminal against individuals who retaliate against whistleblowers because it is against the law to retaliate.”
Senator Sessions: “It’s not acceptable to retaliate against a whistleblower.”
Sen. Sessions responded by expressing the importance of supporting whistleblowers: “You are correct about that. It’s not acceptable to retaliate against a whistleblower. Some have been known to be crank, as you indicated, but you cannot effectively manage this government without good citizens and good employees speaking up when they see wrongdoing. You’ve established a reputation as someone willing to receive that information and act on it and then defend the individual who had the courage to come forward. We need more of that in this government.”
“We are encouraged that Senator Sessions has expressed his support for whistleblowers,” said Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center . “His commitment to whistleblowers will be tested shortly, as the Justice Department must make a critical ruling on the IRS whistleblower program within the next 90-days,” Kohn added.
Kohn is referring to a confidential whistleblower case under the IRS/tax whistleblower law. In that case two whistleblowers exposed criminal fraud committed by a major bank. The government has argued that whistleblowers are not covered under the criminal tax laws, and they can only be protected or rewarded if they turn in small administrative cases. The U.S. Tax Court completely rejected this reasoning, and properly held that whistleblowers are encouraged by law to turn in criminal tax cheats and big banks that violate criminal law.
The Justice Department will decide whether the Tax Court’s ruling will be appealed. The National Whistleblower Center issued a public appeal calling on citizens to demand that no appeal is filed, and that the U.S. government fully implement the whistleblower laws.
The new Attorney General and other appointees in Justice will play the crucial role in authorizing any appeal.