Video: Wyden Opposes Nomination of William Evanina to Lead the National Counterintelligence and Security Center

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr. President, I rise to oppose the confirmation of William Evanina because of his failure to protect whistleblowers. Leading whistleblower protection organizations support my opposition to Mr. Evanina’s confirmation and I ask unanimous consent that their statements be included in the record.

It is currently open season on whistleblowers under the Trump administration. Donald Trump and those around him have made it clear that anyone who speaks up about waste, fraud, abuse or lawbreaking can be punished. If you are a whistleblower under the Trump regime, Trump himself, and his echo chamber, will publicly call you a liar. They will threaten to make your name public, even at the cost of your physical security.  They will prevent your complaints from getting to Congress. And they will fire the Inspectors General who investigate your complaints. 

Now, more than ever, these courageous whistleblowers deserve leaders who will protect them, will defend them and will vigorously advocate for them. They deserve leaders who will stand up to Donald Trump and anyone else who tries to punish those who speak truth to power. I rise today on behalf of whistleblowers who feel under siege to oppose the confirmation of William Evanina to be the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. 

He has failed that key test – whether he will protect those who come forward to blow the whistle. And, even worse, he has failed to enact whistleblower protections that have been required by Congress since 2014. That was his responsibility and he didn’t get it done. That’s a six-year track record of letting down whistleblowers and of failing to follow the law.

Now is the time for Congress to stand up, protect our democracy and the rule of law, and protect whistleblowers. And when Congress does act and passes whistleblower protection legislation as it did in 2014, Congress must not reward those who ignore the law, refuse to implement it for almost six years, with a job promotion. But that is what William Evanina has done for six years. And that is what this body is about to do.

Let’s unpack what the world looks like to a potential whistleblower in today’s Intelligence Community. One of the biggest threats faced by whistleblowers who work with classified information is that their bosses will retaliate against them by revoking their security clearances. Without clearances, they can’t do their jobs. Their livelihoods are ruined. Their families suffer. That threat has a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and makes it less likely that abuses are investigated and brought to light.

Congress has been concerned about this for years. That’s why, in 2014, six years ago, we passed legislation prohibiting the revocation of security clearances as a form of retaliation against whistleblowers. 

The big question was, what happens if a whistleblower’s bosses simply insist that they revoked the security clearance for some other reason?  What if they say it wasn’t retaliation for being a whistleblower? Does the whistleblower have any recourse? Is there an appeals process? Or are whistleblowers who stuck their necks out to report waste, fraud and abuse just out of luck? Congress decided to stand with whistleblowers.

So, in that same 2014 law, Congress required the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of Defense, to develop and implement policies and practices to make that appeals process a reality. In other words, Congress recognized that if whistleblowers were truly going to be protected from retaliation, there needed to be a meaningful process for them to defend themselves against agencies that have all the power and the obvious incentive to silence and remove those who speak up about abuses. 

That law was passed by Congress and signed by the president on July 7, 2014. As of that day, the office of the Director of National Intelligence should have been drafting those policies. But they did not in 2014. Nor in 2015. Nor in 2016. Nor in 2017 or ‘18 or ‘19. And certainly they have not done it in 2020 – not because of the pandemic but despite the pandemic – a time when whistleblower protection is needed more than ever.

And who was at the helm every. Single. One. Of. Those. Years?  William Evanina. Six years have passed, and Mr. Evanina has not produced those whistleblower protection policies required by law. 

During that time, there have been five DNI’s. Congress made the Director of the NCSC a Senate-confirmed position and Mr. Evanina kept his job, becoming both acting director and the nominee. Meanwhile, Congress reached out to ask about the status of those policies and promises were made. 

Again, I will state it: nothing happened – not in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and not in 2020. There were assurances, but no actual policies. Without the actual policies, Mr. President, whistleblowers are vulnerable, and truth-telling and accountability suffer.

Every day, Donald Trump steps up his attacks, on whistleblowers, on Inspectors General, on the entire system of accountability that has been built over the years. Congress has pushed back, passing laws to protect whistleblowers. Those laws must mean something. For the sake of whistleblowers and the rule of law, Congress must not reward those who ignore the law and leave whistleblowers vulnerable. 

But that is what Mr. Evanina has done for six years. That is why I cannot support Mr. Evanina’s confirmation. He has defied the law and failed to protect whistleblowers.

When Congress passes a law, it needs to be implemented. And when Congress directs the government to protect whistleblowers, it needs to happen. In 2014, this body tried to protect whistleblowers. A law was passed. And Mr. Evanina has ignored it all these years. That is never acceptable.

But now, Mr. President, with Trump and his administration officials feeling free to publicly attack whistleblowers repeatedly, to conduct an unremitting assault on the entire whistleblower system, laws to protect them are critical to our democracy. Day after day, we see the costs of Donald Trump’s campaign to silence anyone who speaks up about abuses. We see it in his efforts to cover up his failed, corrupt response to the COVID-19 crisis. We see it across the board.

Now is when we need officials who will demonstrate leadership, who will stand up for those brave enough to report misconduct. Whistleblowers deserve that. The country needs that.

Finally, Mr. President, my colleagues may have heard that Mr. Evanina is currently promising – again – to complete these critical whistleblower protection policies. But enough is enough. After six years, and previous promises, it is long past time to insist on action.

Mr. Evanina remains the acting director. I want him to complete those whistleblower protection policies. And when they are completed and the law Congress passed is implemented, we can discuss again whether he should get this promotion.

Finally, Mr. President, I note again that leading whistleblower protection organizations oppose Mr. Evanina’s confirmation due to his failure to produce these policies. They include the Government Accountability Project, Project on Government Oversight, Whistleblower Aid, and National Security Counselors.