One of the ATF whistleblowers who brought concerns about Operation Fast and Furious to Congress has resolved his retaliation claims against the government.
Peter Forcelli, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent who worked on the botched gun-tracking operation, settled the lawsuit through mediation in the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency that oversees whistleblower claims. An Office of Special Counsel spokeswoman said details of the settlement are confidential.
“It’s nice to have it over,” Forcelli said in an interview with Main Justice. “I’m glad ATF has put me in a position to continue my career and, frankly, let me and my family get on with our lives.”
Forcelli said the retaliation against him came mainly from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix, which worked closely with his field office on Fast and Furious. The agent, who is in his 12th year with ATF, said some within the office tried to “paint me as a trouble maker,” adding that their behavior was “unsettling” to watch.
Forcelli said he’s thankful for the support from new leadership at ATF, specifically acting Director B. Todd Jones and Deputy Director Thomas Brandon, who encouraged him to speak up about the allegations.
An ATF spokesman said he could not comment on the resolution because all matters surrounding Fast and Furious are subject to an ongoing Inspector General investigation.
Tom Devine, Forcelli’s counsel and the legal director at the Government Accountability Project, said ATF leadership has undergone a “180 degree reversal.”
“The current leadership supported Mr. Forcelli’s whistleblowing testimony at the time,” Devine said. “After taking over, they quickly resolved his lawsuit. We’ve got our hopes up that real change is in the offing.”
Forcelli, who served as group supervisor in the Phoenix Field Division, was one of about a dozen ATF whistleblowers who eventually spoke in late 2010 to congressional investigators about their concerns over the gun-walking tactics occurring in the operation.
ATF Agent John Dodson, who has been the most public face among the whistleblowers, was the first to reach out to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) about the operation. Later, in June 2011, Dodson and Forcelli testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Forcelli told the lawmakers that “there have been grave mistakes made in this case.” He also made headlines after calling gun laws governing straw buyers and smuggling are “toothless,” making it difficult to prosecute such cases.
More recently Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, sent a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in June airing his concerns that Forcelli was facing retaliation from ATF following the contempt of Congress vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. Grassley contended that some whistleblowers had been put under the supervision of Scot Thomasson, who served as the bureau’s public affairs division chief in 2011. At that time, he reportedly had choice words for the Fast and Furious whistleblowers.
“We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys and take them down,” Thomasson allegedly said, according to Grassley’s letter, which cites an unnamed eyewitness as its source. “All these whistleblowers have axes to grind. ATF needs to f–k these guys.”
An ATF spokesman said he could not speak to the alleged statements in Grassley’s letter because Fast and Furious is under investigation by the Inspector General.
But just last month, Forcelli criticized Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) for unfairly attacking new ATF leadership. Grassley and Issa criticized acting ATF Director Jones for an employee video they said was threatening to potential whistleblowers. Jones said it was merely an attempt at righting the wrongs of years past within the chain of command.
“Where ATF has screwed up, I’m not going to apologize,” Forcelli said last month in an interview with Tickle the Wire, adding though that new ATF leadership has been supportive of him blowing the whistle. The agent, who now works at headquarters, said the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix “blackballed” him, however.
According to journalist Katherine Eban’s lengthy Fortune Magazine investigation of Fast and Furious, at least one other whistleblower is in mediation to settle allegations he was retaliated against.
This article was updated with quotes from Forcelli and his lawyer.