Former ATF Agent Accuses Chipman Of Racial Bias In Promotional Exam

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Another scoop from The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski, who spoke extensively with a black former ATF agent with a story to tell about a run-in with David Chipman that bears a striking resemblance to allegations of racially charged comments made during Chipman’s time at the Detroit ATF field office.

According to the now-retired agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Chipman accused him of cheating on a promotion exam while the agent was serving in the Dallas field office, though he wasn’t sure of the exact timing.

“I couldn’t believe it when it happened,” the agent told The Reload. “But when I read about his other comments, in my mind, I was like ‘that motherf*****.’ That’s what happened. He said, ‘Hey, a lot of African Americans qualified to be promoted on this certification list; they must have been cheating.’ And then he had to go and find one. I happened to be that one.”

He said he believes Chipman’s allegation after the in-person test was motivated by race.

“I believe it had to have been a bias,” the agent, who spent more than 25 years at the agency, said. “My answers were just ‘too good.’ And my thought is he just said, ‘this black guy could not have answered this well if he wasn’t cheating.’”

The agent said he was cleared by a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation, but not before his career took a hit. He said the protracted investigation effectively paused the promising career he’d built.

“I was cleared as I should have been,” the agent said. “But it was very painful because it was two years out of my life where my career was sidelined for something like that. And it caused me a lot of stress and my family a lot of stress. And it kind of disenchanted me with the idea of management.”

While the agent apparently never filed an EEOC complaint against Chipman, Gutowski did confirm that an Office of Inspector General investigation had been opened in 2007 after Chipman accused an agent of cheating on an assessment. Dena Iverson, the DOJ’s principle deputy director for the Office of Public Affairs, didn’t say what the outcome of the investigation revealed, but pushed back against the idea that Chipman’s allegation was racist in its intent.

“Any allegations of bias against David Chipman are false,” Iverson said, “and in the two times he was the subject of a workplace complaint over a 25-year career at the ATF, the claims were thoroughly investigated and found to be meritless.”

… The agent said Chipman’s behavior toward him created concerns about how he would treat black agents if confirmed as director. He also said Congress could confirm his story without publicly identifying him if the Judiciary Committee obtains the DOJ report he says outlines the incident and clears him of wrongdoing.

“The OIG report, they’re very thorough,” he said. “They’re gonna have interviews with everybody.”

I’d like to see the Senate Judiciary Committee go after the OIG report, though I highly doubt that committee chair Dick Durbin is going to do so. In fact, I suspect that the reaction from Durbin and other Chipman supporters will be to once again attack Gutowski for his reporting rather than deal with the substance of his latest piece.

I do wish the agent had been willing to go on the record about his run-in with Chipman more than a decade ago. Gutowski did a good job in confirming the basic elements of the former agent’s claims, but an on-the-record conversation would be much harder for press outlets, anti-gun activists, and Chipman’s supporters in the Senate to dismiss or ignore. The agent told Gutowski that he really doesn’t want a spotlight on his family while they’re dealing with unrelated medical issues, which is completely understandable, but that doesn’t change the fact that an on-the-record discussion carries more weight than an anonymous allegation; even one that can be largely confirmed through a government paper trail.

Still, I can’t imagine that the agent’s story, anonymous though it may be, is going to make red state Democrats like Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, and Angus King feel more comfortable voting to confirm Chipman as permanent director of the ATF. And with the Senate recessing for the next several weeks, who knows what other stories might come out before Chuck Schumer has a chance to call for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. So far the White House has publicly stood behind Chipman’s nomination, but with the prospects for confirmation declining by the day, don’t be too surprised if Biden uses the Senate’s break to quietly prod Chipman into stepping aside.