Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today filed a legal whistleblowing disclosure with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on behalf of Martin Salazar, a 20-year Department of Energy (DOE) employee prosecuted and jailed after ignoring threats to stop the blowing the whistle on agency misconduct. The disclosure seeks an independent investigation of DOE's own role in the misconduct it prosecuted him for after he refused to be silenced.
Salazar persistently challenged confirmed race and sex discrimination at DOE's Savannah River, South Carolina nuclear weapons facility. In 2002 the Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed an attempt to fire him. His efforts led to stronger EEO policies on paper, but he blew the whistle on their non-implementation, as well as a manager's alleged sexual assault of a female coworker. When DOE sought to prosecute the co-worker Salazar again spoke out. The DOE facility's chief counsel Lucy Knowles told him to stay out of it, or he would "be next." When Salazar persisted, DOE opened a retaliatory investigation.
Tired of steady harassment, Mr. Salazar reluctantly agreed to a DOE- proposed settlement agreement in which he would drop all pending EEOC and MSPB cases against the department, and the department would allow him to exhaust his leave and retire rather than losing his pension and benefits. "Unfortunately," says Kasey Dunton, author of the disclosure, "this agreement wasn't just a double-edged sword, it was a sword of Damocles." As explained more fully below, DOE inserted a birth date for Mr. Salazar in the agreement that it later charged was false, and prosecuted Mr. Salazar for signing it.
Salazar, who was born at home, has neither a birth certificate nor a reliable document indicating his birthday. DOE files inconsistently list it from 1954-1958. When Salazar signed his retirement paperwork, he asked and was reassured by DOE Human Resources staff that the 1954 birth date was correct. But without any further communications, on the same day he signed Knowles made a criminal referral to prosecute Salazar for fraud based on using a "false" birthday. Contrary to normal procedure, Knowles did not seek an Inspector General investigation first. In effect, Knowles made the criminal referral to herself. She was doing double duty with the U.S. Attorney's Office and joined the prosecution team. Salazar was ultimately found guilty of three counts fraud and sentenced to one year and one day in medium-security prison.
In the OSC whistleblowing disclosure, Mr. Salazar seeks an independent investigation of alleged DOE false statements in the agency-drafted settlement, and associated DOE abuse of authority summarized above. "If Mr. Salazar goes to jail for signing an inaccurate form," Dunton asked, "shouldn't those who drafted it and reassured him to sign it also be accountable?"
Mr. Salazar's case will be spotlighted at a Washington, D.C. based National Whistleblower Assembly sponsored by the Make It Safe Coalition. (https://makeitsafecampaign.org/) GAP Legal Director Tom Devine explained, "When agencies cannot fire whistleblowers, increasingly they try to put them in jail. Martin Salazar is a classic poster child of this ugliest reprisal tactic - scaring employees into silence by incarcerating those who speak out. Congress needs to extend whistleblower free speech rights from employment to criminal contexts as an affirmative defense against retaliatory investigations and prosecutions. Finding a champion for this reform will be one of our major goals at next week's national conference."
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.
"The problem isn't that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party—it's that she's abandoned Arizona," said Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego on Monday formally launched his 2024 campaign for the seat held by right-wing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who officially registered as an Independent in December after months of derailing the Biden administration's policy agenda and preserving tax loopholes for her corporate allies.
"The problem isn't that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party—it's that she's abandoned Arizona," said Gallego, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who represents Arizona's 3rd District. "She's repeatedly broken her promises, and fought for the interests of Big Pharma and Wall Street at our expense."
"I'm running for the U.S. Senate because the rich and the powerful don't need any more advocates in Washington—but families who can’t afford groceries do," Gallego added.
\u201cGrowing up poor, all I had was the American dream. It kept me going: as a kid sleeping on the floor, a student scrubbing toilets, a Marine losing brothers in Iraq.\n\nToday, too many Arizonans see their dream slipping away. I\u2019m running for the U.S. Senate to win it back for you!\u201d— Ruben Gallego (@Ruben Gallego) 1674478803
Sinema has not yet publicly said whether she plans to run for reelection in 2024.
If she does, as The Washington Postnoted Monday, "Gallego's bid sets up a dilemma for national Democrats, who must choose whether to pour their considerable resources into backing a Democratic nominee for the seat or to support an independent incumbent."
Several Republicans—including failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and failed U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters—are also weighing 2024 runs for the seat.
A recent memo by the Democratic Party-aligned firm Public Policy Polling found that Gallego is "considerably more popular" in Arizona than Sinema and "would be a top-tier Senate candidate regardless of what she decides to do in 2024."
Other polling, including a January 2022 survey by Data for Progress, has suggested that Sinema would lose in a landslide if she runs for a second term.
Sacha Haworth, a spokeswoman for the Replace Sinema campaign at the Change for Arizona 2024 PAC, said in a statement that
"we are thrilled that there's now a Democratic candidate in this race ready to take on Kyrsten Sinema and win."
"Ruben Gallego has never backed down from fighting for Arizona, and he has what it takes to win," said Haworth. "As she jet sets with the international elite and does favors for her Wall Street donors at the expense of working Arizona taxpayers, Kyrsten Sinema shows us daily that she is only out for herself, and it's time for new leadership. We will continue to make the case as to why Arizona deserves better than Kyrsten Sinema, and do everything in our power to help Democrats win this seat."
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Replace Sinema campaign.
"Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on," said one progressive strategist.
Reports Sunday that President Joe Biden has chosen Jeff Zients to replace outgoing White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain were met with alarm among progressive watchdogs, who pointed to Zients' disastrous tenure as the administration's coronavirus czar as well as his history in the corporate world—where he built a fortune investing in healthcare companies accused of fraud.
Klain, who developed a solid working relationship with progressives in Congress, is expected to depart shortly after Biden's State of the Union address on February 7.
Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser called the elevation of Zients to White House chief of staff a "catastrophic decision," saying in a statement that "the Biden administration has been at its best when it has been on the attack against corporate excesses that wide majorities of Americans find abhorrent."
"Americans are appalled by profiteering in healthcare—Jeff Zients has become astonishingly rich by profiteering in healthcare," said Hauser. "Americans are aghast at how social media companies have built monopolies and violated privacy laws—Zients served on the Board of Directors of Facebook as it was defending itself against growing attacks from both political parties."
The Revolving Door Project's Daniel Boguslaw and Max Moran wrote for The American Prospect last year that Zients—who was replaced as Covid-19 response coordinator back in April—has "controlled, invested in, and helped oversee" healthcare companies that "were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud."
"They have also been accused of surprise-billing practices and even medical malpractice," Boguslaw and Moran noted. "Taken together, an examination of the companies that made Zients rich paints a picture of a man who seized on medical providers as a way to capitalize on the suffering of sick Americans. In the end, it seems to have all paid off."
"The most egregious violation is documented in a 2015 Justice Department settlement announcement," they added. "Portfolio Logic—the investment firm Zients founded with his own money—agreed to pay almost $7 million to resolve allegations of fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid billing, involving a subsidiary (Pediatric Services of America Healthcare, or PSA) that it purchased in 2007."
"Hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."
Progressives have also been highly critical of Zients' performance in government.
In early 2022, Boguslaw urged the Biden administration to fire Zients over his failure to "provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response" to Covid-19 "or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control."
Following news that he would be leaving the coronavirus response post, Public Citizen's Robert Weissman lamented that Zients "refused to pay appropriate attention to global solutions to the global pandemic, because of political concerns or otherwise."
"And the Zients-led Covid response refused to challenge Big Pharma's monopoly control, in the U.S. and globally, over technologies that relied crucially on public support," Weissman continued. "As a result, the United States and other rich countries failed to expand vaccine supply sufficiently to meet global need. Without adequate supply, efforts to bolster low-income country distribution and delivery systems consequently have lagged and been similarly under-resourced."
Citing the Revolving Door Project's work, progressive strategist Murshed Zaheed said Sunday that "Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on."
But the Biden White House doesn't appear remotely concerned about Zients' corporate past.
With Biden expected to launch a bid for reelection in the coming weeks, The New York Timesreported that "the president could lean on" Zients to "help run the government while other advisers focus on the politics of winning a second term."
Hauser said Sunday that "hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."
"The overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," said the executive director of Women's March.
Thousands of people called for reproductive freedom at rallies around the United States on Sunday—the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right until the Supreme Court's reactionary majority overturned it last summer.
At more than 200 events in 46 states, demonstrators condemned the court's 6-3 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which enables states to curtail or even prohibit access to reproductive healthcare. Since the ruling was handed down on June 24, Republican lawmakers have enacted deadly abortion restrictions in 26 states, including near-total bans in several.
"Fifty years after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a radical right-wing movement hijacked our courts and eliminated federal protections for abortions," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of Women's March, which organized Sunday's "Bigger Than Roe" day of action.
"But as the fight turns to the states, they are going to learn that the overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," she added.
Carmona spoke at the Wisconsin state capitol. Women's March picked Madison rather than Washington, D.C. as the location of this year's national protest because the group wanted to send "a clear message to elected leaders and to our base—we are going to where the fight is, and that is at the state level."
"We'll start in Wisconsin, where an upcoming Supreme Court election this spring will determine the balance of power on the state's Supreme Court and the future of abortion rights in Wisconsin," the group explained.
Due to legal uncertainty around the status of Wisconsin's pre-Roe abortion ban, enacted in 1849, providers have been forced to stop offering abortion care in the state.
\u201cWe're fired up and ready to march for our rights because this fight is bigger than Roe. They thought that we would stay home and that this would end with Roe \u2014 they were wrong. \n\nWe're putting every politician on blast \u2014 if you come for our rights, we'll come for you. Period.\u201d— Women's March (@Women's March) 1674414697
\u201cProud to be in Madison today fighting to let every politician know \u2014 if you come for our freedom, our families, or our futures, we're coming for you.\u201d— Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona (@Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona) 1674417721
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 In Wisconsin today to make ourselves clear: \n\nWe will never stop fighting for reproductive freedom! \n\n #BiggerThanRoe @womensmarch\u201d— NARAL (@NARAL) 1674422639
Women's March—with the support of nearly 50 organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Working Families Power, and the National Organization for Women—orchestrated "sister marches" in cities across the country.
"We are taking the fight to the states," organizers said. "From Wisconsin, to Nebraska, to Georgia, to Arizona and Texas, women and our allies are defending abortion rights where they still stand, and working to put measures on the ballot to regain abortion rights in places where politicians are putting their agendas over the will of the people."