It’s a phrase the FBI and other agencies often use in response to questions that might jeopardize sensitive law enforcement operations or matters of national security.
But in an ongoing lawsuit, the Justice Department is battling for the right to neither confirm nor deny records that—if they do indeed exist—would be related to the abrupt departure of the FBI’s former 3rd in command.
The previously unpublicized lawsuit stems from the FBI promoting Jeffrey Sallet to associate deputy director in February 2021—making him the third highest-ranking official at the bureau behind Director Chris Wray and Deputy Director Paul Abbate—only to have him depart the bureau about nine months later.
Sallet now works at accounting firm Ernst & Young, which was purportedly an opportunity for a higher salary.
However, former FBI agent Michael Zummer, who has a long and contentious history with Sallet, claims to have received information from other bureau employees that Sallet’s departure was related to sexual misconduct allegations.
An organization called United for FBI Integrity—run by former FBI agent Jim Davidson and represented by Zummer—submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI and Justice Department for any records about Sallet’s alleged misconduct.
Instead of denying such records or claiming they don’t exist, the FBI and DOJ issued “Glomar responses”—neither confirming nor denying the records’ existence or lack thereof.
“The mere acknowledgement of the existence of FBI records on third party individuals could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” the FBI told the watchdog group in November 2021.
Unsatisfied with those responses, United for FBI Integrity filed its lawsuit against the DOJ in September 2022.
The two parties have been battling in court for some 15 months and counting, with United for FBI Integrity arguing that the DOJ is incorrectly using Glomar in a misguided effort to avoid transparency obligations. The watchdog has also levied some salacious and unconfirmed accusations against Sallet.
Salacious but Currently Unproven Allegations
United for FBI Integrity first sued the DOJ in September 2022, hinting at misconduct allegations against Sallet, but offering few details.
In June 2023, Zummer filed a sworn declaration as part of a motion for summary judgment against the DOJ. His sworn declaration specifies the information he’s purportedly heard about Sallet.
“After learning about Sallet’s retirement, I heard from various current and former FBI employees that allegations of sexual impropriety against Sallet had caused him to retire. The first allegation that I was told was that an employee reported that Sallet was alleged to have invited a young female employee to his hotel room while on official travel,” Zummer said.
“Another employee reported that Sallet sent a photograph of his genitalia to a female employee closer to his own age and rank with whom he was having an affair. Another FBI employee reported that two female employees threatened to go to the national media if action were not taken against Sallet,” he said.
“Finally, these reports are consistent with behavior that was reported about Sallet when he was in New Orleans. A former employee told me that Sallet commented to him and other employees about underage high school girls’ buttocks, saying words to the effect that the men would not find similarly attractive posteriors on women their own age.”
United for FBI Integrity’s motion for summary judgment also included a sworn declaration from the organization’s president, former FBI agent James Davidson.
Davidson said he only heard the rumors about Sallet from Zummer. Nevertheless, it’s suspicious that Sallet retired so soon after being promoted to be the FBI’s third-in-command, according to Davidson.
“In fact, the circumstances of Sallet’s retirement fit the profile of someone who had faced some sort of internal or external scrutiny for ethical or disciplinary violations and chose to retire to avoid further scrutiny,” Davidson said in his sworn declaration.
Sallet, to reiterate, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and Zummer admitted to Headline USA that he has no direct evidence of sexual misconduct.
The DOJ, for its part, has also blasted Zummer’s accusations as “only anonymous hearsay and innuendo,” seeking a summary judgment of its own.
“The invasion of Sallet’s privacy that confirming or denying the existence of any responsive records would entail outweighs any public interest in disclosure. Sallet has a significant interest in personal privacy that outweighs all the rationales for disclosure that Plaintiff asserts,” DOJ lawyers argued in a July 2023 court filing.
“Plaintiff offers no evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief that Sallet engaged in misconduct.”
However, Zummer takes exception to the DOJ’s characterization of his allegations. In an August 2023 reply to the DOJ, Zummer argued that his information about Sallet comes from reliable sources within the bureau.
“The Plaintiff has established more than a bare suspicion that Sallet might have engaged in sexual misconduct,” Zummer wrote on behalf of United for FBI Integrity.
“Allegations of government misconduct are far more powerful when they come from insiders. FBI employees are the source of the requester’s allegations. Here, the Plaintiff has provided specific allegations of wrongdoing from members of DOJ’s primary investigative agency,” he added.
FBI Stretches Authority to Avoid Public Scrutiny
Salacious allegations aside, United for FBI Integrity has argued that the DOJ is attempting to apply its power to “neither confirm nor deny” far too broadly in this case.
“Government misconduct is a sufficient public interest to defeat DOJ’s Glomar responses, particularly considering DOJ has failed to establish that all of the possible responsive records held by the FBI or OIG would have been compiled for law enforcement purposes,” the group argued in August.
“Under the less stringent standard of Exemption 6, DOJ cannot meet its burden to establish that all possible responsive records may be withheld in light of the public interest in disclosing government misconduct.”
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, who’s presiding over the case, has yet to rule on either party’s motion for summary judgment.
The FBI declined to comment for this story. Sallet has denied any wrongdoing but did not provide further comment on the record. Ernst & Young did not respond to a message seeking comment.
A Culture of Misconduct at the FBI
Reports from the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General in recent years suggest that the FBI has a widespread culture of sexual misconduct.
According to a 2020 Associated Press article entitled, ‘Under the rug:’ Sexual misconduct shakes FBI’s senior ranks, the last time the OIG did an extensive probe of sexual misconduct within the FBI, it tallied 343 “offenses” from fiscal years 2009 to 2012, including three instances of “videotaping undressed women without consent.”
That AP investigation identified at least six sexual misconduct allegations involving senior FBI officials over the past five years, including two new claims brought by women who say they were sexually assaulted by ranking agents.
“Each of the accused FBI officials appears to have avoided discipline, the AP found, and several were quietly transferred or retired, keeping their full pensions and benefits even when probes substantiated the sexual misconduct claims against them,” the AP reported in December 2020.
A year after the December 2020 AP investigation, a December 2021 OIG report found that four FBI officials had sex with prostitutes while posted overseas, while a fifth also tried to do so—and all but one “lacked candor” about it during interviews and lie-detector test.
According to that December 2021 report, two FBI officials resigned, two retired, and one was removed—all while the OIG’s investigation was ongoing.
The OIG’s December 2021 report said it referred the findings to the FBI for “appropriate action,” but nothing public has been revealed about the matter since then.
More recently, the OIG revealed in October that a senior FBI official had solicited prostitutes from a foreign national’s massage parlor while he was still working for the bureau. Like the others, that official retired while the OIG’s investigation was still ongoing. The DOJ declined to prosecute that official, according to the OIG.
And just this week, the OIG reported that a former Acting Deputy Assistant Director harassed a subordinate and made inappropriate sexual and religious jokes in the workplace. That report didn’t state whether the FBI official retired or is still at the bureau.
Zummer has cited the numerous instances of sexual misconduct at the FBI to support United for FBI Integrity’s lawsuit.
“The documented problems with FBI executives and DOJ’s mishandling of their misconduct further weighs in favor of disclosure of those records, should they exist,” he said in an August court filing.
“Thus, allegations of misconduct by Sallet and the OIG are sufficient to defeat DOJ’s Glomar responses.”
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.