EPA ‘Whistleblower’ Had Run-Ins With Law Enforcement, Other Background-Check Red Flags

Secret Service detail warned Kevin Chmielewski after physical altercations with Trump protesters

Donald Trump and Kevin Chmielewski

Donald Trump and Kevin Chmielewski / Screenshot via YouTube

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A former Trump campaign "body man" turned Environmental Protection Agency whistleblower repeatedly cited by Democrats has a long history of run-ins with law enforcement, including a warning from a Secret Service detail, debt problems and other red flags that could have sunk his mandatory background check, legal experts say.

Kevin Chmielewski, 39, served as a personal assistant or body man to President Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail in 2016 and earned personal praise from Trump during a campaign rally in Chmielewski's hometown of Berlin, Md.

During the rally, Trump singled him out as a "star" and a "gem."

Chmielewski previously did advance work—staging and setting up campaign events—for several Republican presidential campaigns, including those of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, who now serves as Energy secretary, and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), among others.

After Trump's election, Chmielewski briefly worked for the Department of Homeland Security before moving on to the EPA. He continued doing advance work, accompanying EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or Vice President Mike Pence on official travel.

Chmielewski, who recently sat down with House and Senate Democrats and ABC News, has said he was retaliated against and fired for taking issue with excessive first-class and other travel and office spending by Pruitt. His complaints formed the basis of a mid-April letter several Democrats sent to Trump citing "grave concerns" about Pruitt's spending.

However, several administration officials and two people who worked with him on the campaign vehemently disagree about the reasons he was forced out of the EPA.

Administration officials said Chmielewski was asked to resign over a number of issues, including that his supervisors and other co-workers didn't know where he was on many occasions even though they suspected he was doing advance work.

The New York Times in early April reported that EPA officials said Chmielewski was unresponsive while on advance trips, including one to Hawaii where he was preparing for a Pence visit there.

Political appointees can leave intermittently to do advance work for other high-level officials but must notify their superiors of the days and duration of their time away from normal agency duties.

The same sources also say several incidents, as well as information about Chmielewski's background that didn't add up, contributed to a general sense of unease about his continued work for the EPA.

Chmielewski has told media outlets that EPA officials placed him on unpaid administrative leave in February before firing him in March.

A document reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon shows that he signed a resignation form March 17 and did not cite any reasons for the resignation or grievances on a line asking for the reasons for the resignation. The form instructs those resigning to "be specific and avoid generalizations."

The officials and other Chmielewski associates said he enjoyed the proximity to political stars as well as the expensive travel perks of his advance and assistant work for Trump and other presidential candidates, including staying in luxury hotels.

For instance, during an official EPA advance work trip to Australia last August, Chmielewski spent a total of $1,275 for four nights in hotels: two at the Hotel Sofitel in Melbourne and two at the Hotel Sofitel in Sydney, according to receipts from the trip the Free Beacon reviewed.

Flight records also show that Chmielewski traveled from Los Angeles to Sydney in Delta Airlines' "Delta One" business class, which the airline's website describes as "luxury at a higher altitude" and provides a 180-degree "flat-bed seat, and "Westin Heavenly In-flight bedding."

"One of the most exclusive cabins in the sky, Delta One offers a dedicated cabin and luxurious details that truly make a difference in how you spend your time in the air," the website says.

The White House's Presidential Personnel Office contacted Chmielewski in January after his return from a trip with Pence to the Middle East and raised serious concerns about red flags in his background check, two sources told the Free Beacon.

The PPO official alluded to discrepancies discovered on his Standard Form 86, a questionnaire all individuals must complete to be considered for federal positions involving national security, and information uncovered in the background-check, the sources said.

The White House did not return a request for comment.

In a lengthy, combative interview with the Free Beacon, Chmielewski repeatedly refused to answer several questions and threatened to spend the "rest of his career going after" this reporter.

He said neither the PPO, nor anyone else in the federal government, ever contacted him with background check concerns. He told the Free Beacon that he has a permanent Top Secret-level security clearance but would not provide any paperwork to prove it.

"This is how ridiculous and idiotic you are," Chmielewski said in the interview.

"You’re not allowed in [Department of Homeland Security] without one," he asserted, referring to a security clearance. He also said it is illegal to show security-clearance paperwork to a reporter.

Sean Bigley, a former DHS political appointee in the Bush administration who now works as an attorney and has represented several high-profile cases involving federal workers with security-clearance problems, contradicted Chmielewski.

Bigley said that a DHS employee can work at the department with an interim security clearance and said an EPA official who is not working in a covert position would face no legal problems showing proof of his security-clearance to a reporter or anyone else.

"The only way it would be illegal is if he was serving in a clandestine role," Bigley said. "Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, it is illegal to disclose the identity or relationship with the government of a covert operative. But he’s clearly not a covert operative working at the EPA."

"There’s absolutely no law preventing him from sharing details about his security clearance or paperwork proving it," Bigley said.

Two fellow campaign workers say they became alarmed about Chmielewski's judgment and behavior after they witnessed him repeatedly manhandling protesters at Trump campaign rallies.

Chmielewski had at least one run-in with a Secret Service detail on the campaign, which sternly warned him not to get physical with the protesters and let "the police do the policework," according to a source with detailed knowledge about the incident.

After learning of Chmielewski's background-check problems, administration officials began looking into his past, scrutinizing his resume and court records.

The Free Beacon previously reported that Chmielewski apparently inflated his Coast Guard service on the resume he used to apply for federal government posts by more than three years and unusually left the Guard after nine months at the lowest paygrade, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman.  

He also received similar double-digit raises at the EPA in a matter of just a few months last year as the salary increases he complained to Democrats and the media about.

Chmielewski told the Free Beacon that he left the Coast Guard at the lowest rank and paygrade because he took leave to take care of his ailing mom and brother, who is paralyzed from the neck down. When the Free Beacon asked why he would be disciplined for such leave and whether it was authorized, Chmielewski grew irate and would not say what type of discipline he received.

When the Free Beacon asked if he left the Coast Guard in an unauthorized way, known as going AWOL, because his brother had an accident and became paralyzed, Chmielewski repeatedly said, "You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting," before hanging up.

He later texted paperwork to the Free Beacon showing that he was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard despite the reduced rank and pay.

Additionally, court documents show that Chmielewski was charged with "driving or attempting to drive" a vehicle while impaired by alcohol in 2005. Court records show that a fine in the case was "received/billed."

The case went to trial, but the verdict is not known because Worcester County, Md., where the offense allegedly occurred, does not maintain records on site for more than three years. Chmielewski asked which drunk driving arrest the Free Beacon was referring to and the year. When the Free Beacon referred to Maryland court documents on the charge and the 2005 court trial, Chmielewski denied it had occurred.

More recently, in 2015, the state of Maryland placed a lien on Chmielewski for $7,667 in unpaid taxes, which he did not pay off until February 15, 2017, after Trump was inaugurated.

In 2016, the day after the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary, Chmielewski was arrested in Spartanburg County, S.C. for driving 25 miles per hour over the speed limit, which is considered reckless driving in that state. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and paid a fine.

Five years prior, a dentist sued Chmielewski for nonpayment of a $564 bill. The case in Anne Arundel County, Md. was dismissed after a year because Chmielewski was never served a subpoena, as the dentist had the wrong address for him.

In mid-April, Propublica.com reported that Chmielewski never filed required financial disclosure forms during his year in the Trump administration, a rare breach for political appointees wanting to remain or move up in the ranks of the administration and one that has resulted in criminal charges by the Justice Department in other cases.

The Ethics in Government Act mandates that all political appointees file detailed financial disclosures at the government department where they work within 30 days of beginning their employment there. The disclosure reports are required to show whether staffers have any potential financial conflicts of interest. Employees can get 90-day extension from the agency.

Chmielewski's background issues, either separately or taken as a whole, would easily sink a federal-government security clearance or more basic background-check process and serve as grounds for dismissal for a political appointee in any presidential administration, according to legal experts.

The administration was highly sensitized to background-check problems after the scandal involving former White House aide Rob Porter's domestic abuse of two ex-wives and news that the FBI raised the issue with the White House, which allowed him to remain on staff with a temporary security clearance.

The Trump administration has been cracking down on the background-check process, requiring investigators to wrap up outstanding cases and apply higher standards for employees with obvious black marks or red flags in their past, according to Bigley.

Bigley said he's seen dozens of cases over the last several months in which the Trump administration has dismissed political appointees and other employees who couldn't qualify for a security clearance or have something undesirable in their background.

"All political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president," he said. "Ultimately, it's a very summary process. In most cases, senior administration officials just have to tell them, ‘You're gone,' and give them their marching papers."

The primary reason political appointees do not pass their background or security-clearance checks is because of financial problems investigators uncover, Bigley said.

One drunk-driving incident wouldn't necessarily disqualify a person for a lower-level security clearance or basic federal employee background check. Instead, Bigley said, investigators look at the totality of the red flags in an individual's background.

Background check investigators often also scrutinize the crime people are charged with, not what they end up plea-bargaining down to as their conviction, he said.

"They are less concerned with the outcome—they are concerned with the underlying conduct," he said. "If someone is charged with a felony but pled down to a misdemeanor, they are still looking at that felony charge."

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree   Email Susan | Full Bio | RSS
Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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