Washington Gadfly

EXCLUSIVE: ICE Whistleblower Fired After Refusing DHS Hush Money

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday dismissed an ICE whistleblower it was secretly smearing to reporters after she testified before Congress about her troubles with the agency.

Special Agent Taylor Johnson — who had a storied career until she irked Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid by objecting to a visa program for foreign investors tied to the senator’s son — says she declined to take a $100,000 severance package because it included a non-disclosure agreement.

Gee, what a great use of taxpayer money that would have been. Pay a woman not to talk about what already got nationwide coverage when she talked about it before Congress.

DHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Todd Breasseale did not respond to multiple inquiries about the reason for Johnson’s dismissal and why they tried to buy her silence.

Despite all the media coverage of her case, including a Washington Gadfly report that the ICE press secretary with the approval of Breasseale was peddling confidential information to discredit her in violation of the Privacy Act, Taylor is not surprised she got the boot.

“My entire chain of command was appointed by Obama,” she remarked. “They can do anything they want.”

In testimony last June to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Johnson said she was stripped of her gun and badge, without explanation, after discovering fraud and abuse.

“Some of the violations investigated surrounding the project included bank and wire fraud, and I discovered ties to organized crime and high-ranking politicians and they received promotions that appeared to facilitate the program,” Johnson testified.

She said that during her investigation in 2013, she “discovered that EB-5 applicants from China, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia had been approved in as little as 16 days” and that case files “lacked the basic and necessary law enforcement queries.”

At ICE, Johnson had amassed many awards and never had any disciplinary problems. But everything changed abruptly in 2013 when she invoked the ire of Senator Reid by holding up a visas for a foreigner investor in a Las Vegas casino represented by his son, attorney Cory Reid.

The Senator’s office complained to Johnson’s Special Agent in Charge. She was then placed on administrative leave, without explanation, on October 13, 2013.

Under pressure from Senate Democratic staffers Johnson did not mention in her testimony the role Reid’s office played in her ouster. But the DHS Inspector General concluded in a report last March that U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Alejandro Mayorkas intervened in “an unprecedented matter” to approve EB-5 visas for the Las Vegas casino investors after pressure from Reid’s office.

The report essentially vindicated complaints by Johnson and other DHS employees about the program.

DHS has never given any public explanation for the disciplinary action it took against Johnson. After the hearing a DHS spokeswoman said they do not talk about personnel matters.

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 But this past December, ICE press secretary Gillian Christensen, citing confidential information from Johnson’s file, tried to convince this reporter off the record that she was a dishonest and a problem employee.

That argument is going to be even harder to peddle now that the Department would have allowed Johnson to leave with a clean work record and $100,000 in spending money if she promised to keep her mouth shut.

Johnson is soliciting donations on gofundme.com to cover legal fees for a possible federal lawsuit.