A senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary committee is demanding that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram address allegations of improper hiring and contracting of her past associates.
The request Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa follows an Associated Press investigation finding that a federal watchdog is investigating whether strict federal rules on no-bid contracting and hiring may have been violated to channel DEA work to Milgram’s associates.
“These are serious allegations, and DEA must respond to them and clear the air,” Grassley wrote in a letter sent to Milgram’s office, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.
The scrutiny by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector Genera comes as the DEA is struggling with repeated revelations of agent misconduct and a fentanyl crisis claiming more than 100,000 overdose deaths a year that Milgram has called the “deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced.”
The DEA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. But Milgram’s boosters inside and outside the agency have defended her actions as part of an ongoing effort to clean house, recruit talented individuals and pursue innovative ways to protect national security and the health of the American people.
Much of Grassley’s five-page letter focuses on a $1.4 million no-bid contract to a Washington law firm for a recent review of the DEA’s scandal-plagued foreign operations that he criticized for giving short shrift to agent misconduct and how to prevent it. That review was co-authored by Boyd Johnson, former right-hand man to one of Milgram’s closest friends, Preet Bharara, when he was U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. Bharara himself landed at the firm, WilmerHale, even as the review was being conducted.
“The report by all measures fell well short of the mark, spending most of its scant 49 pages citing publicly-available sources or the DEA’s operations manuals,” Grassley wrote, demanding that Milgram provide any correspondence with WilmerHale where DEA issued instructions or suggested edits of the report. “Rather than answering the questions we had, this only raises new ones.”
Grassley, who is also co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. said his office had received “multiple credible allegations” from whistleblowers of irregular hiring that point to possible waste of federal resources as well as conflicts of interests among DEA leadership.
Among them, he cites a nearly $400,000 no-bid award for data analytics to Jose Cordero, a former law enforcement official who worked closely with Milgram when she served as New Jersey attorney general more than a decade ago. DEA awarded The Cordero Group a contract within three weeks of Milgram being confirmed by the Senate to head the agency on the basis of Cordero’s record designing public safety strategies with rigorous crime data analysis.
“These do not appear to be skills that are possessed by only one company, which demands explanation of why the contract was awarded outside the normal bidding process required by law,” Grassley wrote.
The Iowa Republican is also looking at whether Milgram or anyone else from the DEA directed contractors to specifically hire specific subcontractors, including a New York City publicist and a former Democratic congressional staffer who Milgram knew from a public safety project she helped run in Indianapolis while teaching at New York University’s law school.
Goodman reported from Miami, Mustian from New York. Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.