WH Taps Attorney in Senate, '60 Minutes' Investigations for VAOIG

Michael Missal

Michael Missal, a Washington, DC, attorney with a background in complex and controversial investigations, has been tapped by the Obama administration to be the next inspector general of the Veterans Affairs Department.

Missal, currently with K&L Gates LLC, where his specialty is government enforcement, assisted a Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigation into Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, in 2011 for violating lobbying laws, lying and obstruction of justice.

Before then Missal was lead counsel to an independent panel assembled by CBS to look into the 2004 "60 Minutes" segment on President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War.

"Michael Missal has a long track record of leading complex and highly-sensitive independent investigations that equips him well to take up the position of Inspector General at the Department of Veterans Affairs," the White House said.

Missal also previously was appointed by the Justice Department to uncover corporate malfeasance and negligence in two of the nation's largest bankruptcies, subprime mortgage lender New Century Financial Corp.

The VA has been without a permanent IG nearly two years. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin, named acting IG in January 2014, resigned in July 2015 amid whistleblowers' criticism he had done little or nothing to expose fraud and abuse at the department.

Linda Halliday, who has been with the IG's office of audits and evaluations for more than 20 years, was named to succeed Griffin.

Missal's nomination, first announced by the White House on Oct. 2, came within two weeks of Senators from both sides of the aisle challenged the administration to name a new permanent IG.

During a hearing where the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee took testimony from several whistleblowers Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, suggested the White House be given six months to name a permanent IG.

"And if the administration has not appointed an inspector general after six months, at an agency that has 35 percent of whistleblower complaints in all of the federal government, then Miss Halliday gets the job. She becomes the IG because the administration has failed to act," McCaskill said.

A White House source speaking on background told Military.com that Missal's nomination is not related to McCaskill's challenge and "had been in the works for a while."

McCaskill, in a statement, said she is glad to finally see the White House move to fill "a position that had been unacceptably without a permanent head for more than 600 days."

"Every agency, and especially the VA, needs the strong, independent oversight that [IGs] provide," she said. "I look forward to reviewing Mr. Missal's qualifications, and I'm hopeful the full Senate will move forward with a speedy confirmation process."

Missal assisted in the Senate Ethics Committee investigation into Sen. John Ensign in 2011. The committee found evidence that Ensign conspired to break ethics laws by setting up longtime friend Doug Hampton in a job and that he lied about a $96,000 payment to Hampton and his wife, Cindy, and that he obstructed justice by deleting emails.

The ethics case and investigation against Ensign grew out of a 2009 scandal in which Ensign admitted to an affair with Cindy Hampton.

In 2004 CBS recruited Missal to be its lead counsel for an independent review of a "60 Minutes" segment on President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard. The story alleged that Bush received preferential treatment while in the guard and avoided service in Vietnam.

The panel concluded that the "60 Minutes" story, which was reported by Dan Rather, was flawed and failed to follow standard journalistic principles.

Rather had previously announced he would resign, and CBS fired four people following the release of its in-house investigation.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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