A Government Watchdog Found That A Trump-Era US Attorney Showed “Poor Judgment” In Publicly Criticizing His Staff

Scott Brady served as the US attorney in western Pennsylvania; he’s now in private practice.

Andrew Harnik / POOL/AFP via Getty Images

US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice on Oct. 19, 2020.

WASHINGTON — Scott Brady, who served as a US attorney in Pennsylvania under the Trump administration, exercised “poor judgment” and behaved in a way that “was unbecoming of a U.S. Attorney or any Department leader, and reflected poorly on the Department” when he publicly called out an attorney in his office who’d been critical of the Justice Department’s perceived support of Trump’s voter fraud claims, a government watchdog found.

The details of Brady’s actions as well as his response to the complaint and investigation were laid out in a lightly redacted report that the Justice Department’s inspector general released on Friday in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The watchdog office found that Brady’s actions didn’t violate any specific policy, regulation, or guideline, noting that the DOJ doesn’t have a formal “Standards of Conduct” for US attorneys or other high-level officials. But the report represented a public rebuke.

Brady, who was confirmed as the US attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania in late 2017, stepped down from the position in February 2021. As the inspector general’s office noted, the fact that he’d left the department meant there wasn’t any other disciplinary action that the DOJ could take. He’s a partner at the law firm Jones Day, where he’d worked before former president Donald Trump nominated him. He did not immediately return a request for comment.

The events that led to the complaint against Brady started the week after election day in November. On Nov. 9, then–attorney general Bill Barr issued a memo that expanded the authority that federal prosecutors had to investigate voter fraud allegations. The move was widely criticized as humoring Trump’s refusal to accept that he’d lost the White House and his continued efforts to promote the lie that the election was “stolen” because of widespread fraud. The head of the DOJ office that investigates election-related crimes resigned in protest at the time.

On Nov. 13, a group of 16 assistant US attorneys who were serving terms as the “district election officer” for their office signed a letter to Barr asking him to withdraw the Nov. 9 memo. The lawyers who signed the letter included one of two election officers in Brady’s office; the attorney is identified using he/him pronouns, but their name is redacted throughout the report. The attorney told one person in their office that they were thinking about signing the letter, but no one else, including Brady.

The letter to Barr wasn’t released to the public, but various news outlets reported on it. On Nov. 16, according to the inspector general report, an official in the Executive Office for the United States Attorneys sent a message to the US attorneys whose staff had signed the letter, including Brady. The message warned that the letter “potentially triggered” First Amendment speech protections and whistleblower protections and urged the US attorneys to “take no action.”

Brady followed up by email the following day, writing that he had “refrained from engaging” and inquiring if it’d be OK if he asked the attorney in his office if they believed they could follow Barr’s directives and continue to serve as an election officer. A DOJ official (the name is redacted) replied that Brady could have a discussion with the attorney, but warned that removing them from the position “could open you up to a retaliation claim.”

On Nov. 18, Brady appeared at a press conference to talk about a case his office was handling related to the Clean Water Act. A reporter asked if his office was investigating voter fraud and about the Barr letter. Brady replied:

“First, I can’t comment on any existing investigations. To the second, one of our two district election officers, who was married to the former chief of staff of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, did sign on to that, unbeknownst to anyone in leadership before he signed on to that; and did not talk about that with his fellow district election officer who’s also our ethics advisor.”

The assistant US attorney told the inspector general’s office they were “shocked” by Brady’s comments and emailed Brady to say that the reference to his spouse was “inappropriate and retaliatory” and was a “public, partisan attack against a colleague and his family member.” Brady didn’t reply. He later told the inspector general’s office that he’d been trying to communicate that the letter wasn’t signed on behalf of his office. Asked if he could have done that without invoking the attorney’s spouse, he replied that he recognized “I could have made that point differently” but also defended it as relevant “context … to allow the listener and the public to draw their own conclusions.”

The inspector general’s office found that “Brady’s intentionally derogatory public remarks about an AUSA in his office sought to undermine the WDPA AUSA’s professional reputation; inappropriately suggested, by referencing his spouse’s prior DOJ position, that partisan political considerations motivated him to sign the letter; and wrongly implied that he may have acted unethically by signing the letter without first consulting with the USAO’s ethics officer.”

The watchdog found that the attorney in Brady’s office hadn’t been required to notify top officials about their intent to sign the letter to Barr and that they didn’t violate any “ethical obligations” in signing on to it.

“[M]ore concerning,” the inspector general’s office wrote, “was the manner in which Brady publicly attacked a long-tenured, career DOJ prosecutor who was a member of his own staff, even though he did not name him.”

Finally, the office chastised Brady for what they believed was his attempt to minimize the seriousness of his conduct: “We found it disturbing that, during our interview 11 weeks after the press conference, Brady told the OIG that, in retrospect, he did not find his response to the reporter to be at all troubling. However, after being given an opportunity to review the draft report, Brady acknowledged that his remarks were ‘ill-advised and that he should have taken a different approach to the reporter’s question.’”