Washington, D.C. June 22, 2012. In a dramatic setback for the U.S. Department of Justice’s “War on Whistleblowers,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today reversed a district court decision that had thrown out the Privacy Act case of former U.S. prosecutor Richard Convertino.
The Privacy Act case, which accused the former Bush Administration of illegally leaking information to smear the reputation of Mr. Convertino, was reinstated by the Appeals Court. The Appeals Court opinion permits Mr. Convertino to continue to conduct discovery in order to learn which current and/or former Justice Department officials violated the Privacy Act with their actions against Mr. Convertino.
Mr. Convertino is a former award-winning prosecutor who led several complex terrorism cases at the Department of Justice. In 2003, Mr. Convertino blew the whistle on former Attorney General Ashcroft’s handling of terrorism prosecutions. Shortly thereafter, high-ranking Justice Department officials retaliated by leaking highly disparaging and untrue information about Mr. Convertino to Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter. In 2004, Mr. Convertino filed a Privacy Act complaint to protect his rights as a whistleblower and sanction the official(s) who illegally leaked the information about him.
Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center and lead counsel for Mr. Convertino, stated:
The Justice Department’s policy of criminally investigating whistleblowers who ‘leak’ information, while at the same time aggressively defending its own ‘leakers,’ is hypocritical. In Mr. Convertino’s case, the Justice Department intentionally leaked information to destroy the reputation of the distinguished prosecutor who had the courage to challenge the Attorney General’s conduct in the ‘War on Terror.’ Moreover, the Justice Department has, for years, aggressively stood in the way of Mr. Convertino’s attempts to discover which official(s) retaliated against him.
The Appeals Court’s decision in Mr. Convertino’s case is a monumental victory for whistleblowers.
The Justice Department’s double standard in the treatment of ‘leakers’ is intolerable. The Attorney General should not protect those who leak information at the government’s request and simultaneously prosecute whistleblowers trying to alert the public about waste, fraud and abuse.
Attorney General Holder must immediately reverse its position in the Convertino case and join with the whistleblower in finding out who violated the Privacy Act and the laws prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers.