A black former ATF agent says President Joe Biden’s director nominee claimed he must have cheated after performing well on a promotion assessment.
The agent said David Chipman baselessly alleged his answers during part of a promotion examination were too good to be genuine. The agent noted the striking similarity between the situation and comments Chipman is alleged to have made denigrating black agents up for promotion while serving in Detroit. He said reading recent reporting on the comments alleged to be at the center of an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against Chipman helped him connect the dots with his own run-in with the nominee.
“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.”
The agent asked not to be identified as he does not want his family to be brought into the political spotlight while they deal with unrelated medical struggles. The Reload independently confirmed the agent’s identity and position within ATF by examining multiple press reports mentioning him during his career with the agency. A second former ATF agent with more than 30 years in government service vouched for the first agent’s credibility.
“He’s one of the most sincere and well-balanced people I know,” the second ATF agent, who also asked not to be named, told The Reload. “He’s a solid professional. I would trust him with my life.”
The second agent also corroborated several details of the story. He confirmed the first agent told him of the complaint during his assessment around the time it first happened. He said he was also told the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was investigating the allegation.
Dena Iverson, principal deputy director of DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, confirmed Chipman had accused an agent of cheating on an assessment. She said the accusation did result in an investigation but did not say what the results of the investigation were and DOJ did not release a copy of the report.
“Chipman served as an assessor for many ATF candidates of all backgrounds–and only once, in 2007, raised a concern about potential cheating by an individual to supervisors,” Iverson told The Reload. “Those concerns were considered serious enough that the inspector general decided to investigate them.”
DOJ also defended Chipman against the agent’s allegation of racial bias.
“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 first agent said he did not have a copy of the report, but he was given a letter of clearance. He said he couldn’t recall clearly the exact timing of the assessment in question. However, he said the report should have the relevant details and Congress could likely get access to it even though it’s confidential.
“I think the congressional folks that are looking into this, they could probably get it,” he said.
Chipman’s nomination has remained in limbo since his confirmation hearing back in May. While much of the scrutiny he faced at the hearing centered on his position as a paid gun-control activist, attention shifted in recent weeks after current and former ATF agents corroborated the existence of a complaint he made racist remarks while in management at the agency’s Detroit office. The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have called for a second hearing to investigate claims he said too many black agents had passed an assessment and must have cheated. Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) denied the request last week and implied, without citing any evidence, that the sources speaking out about Chipman’s alleged comments were fabricated.
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.”
He said the assessment in question happened in Dallas, Texas, and he was put through a series of tests to judge how well he could handle a management position.
“They would fly agents to these cities for three or four days. And two of those days were the assessments that you’d go in, and it was role-playing. You’d have a number of different scenarios.”
The agent said Chipman and McMahon were on the panel for his test on how to use agency resources to combat rising gun crime in a given city.
“One of those was about anti-violence programs,” he said. “‘Hey, we got XYZ city, you’re the Assistant Special Agent in Charge over this division, and this particular city has seen a high increase and gun violence, there’s a lot of trafficking and this and that. Walk us through, how would you put into place a program to address that issue.’ So, that was the scenario. And my explanation was everything that I did from when I managed a tracing program. The stuff that I would do for Chicago PD, or NYPD, or Mobile, Alabama police. I traveled all over the country. That was my job. I had a team. We would travel, put in place these strategies, and train the police department to do these types of investigations and use our resources. And, at that point, I had already run an office for years. I’m like, ‘Okay, this is easy.’ Out of all of them, I know this stuff.”
He said his overall score was competitive but not outstanding. However, he said Chipman wasn’t aware of his background in setting up anti-violence programs and did not observe the other sections of his assessment. He said Chipman’s assessment he performed too well on a single test led him into a two-year ordeal that handicapped his career.
“It was a little above average, but it wasn’t like a great score. It wasn’t like I aced this thing,” the agent said. “Based on that one area, he made the comment.”
He said once the allegation was made, it had to be investigated even though his direct supervisors were skeptical of the claim.
“They were very supportive because they knew me, and they knew him,” the agent said. “But they had no choice. They had to do it at that point.”
He said Chipman’s allegation was not backed up by William McMahon, a deputy assistant director at the time and the other assessor who sat in on that part of the examination. The Reload was unable to contact McMahon for comment.
Ultimately, the agent said he was satisfied with the outcome of the OIG investigation.
“It had to go the formal investigation route,” he said. “I’m glad it did because that resulted in the clearance. And no one can ever say, ‘hey, he might have done it.’ Hell no, I didn’t do sh**. I was cleared.”
But that doesn’t mean he enjoyed the ordeal, and he still resents being accused of cheating over being able to answer questions that dealt with areas of his job he had years of experience carrying out. In fact, he said the accusation did more than just surprise him—it also filled him with righteous indignation.
“I was pissed,” the agent said. “I’d have probably punched the guy in the nose if I had interacted with him right after I found out.”
April Langwell, chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division, said the agency can’t comment on Chipman or any other nominee. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from Chipman on the new allegation. Senator Durbin did not respond to a request for comment on whether the Judiciary Committee would seek the release of the OIG report.
The agent remained at the ATF for a few years after OIG cleared his name. But he never again attempted to move into management before leaving the agency altogether.
“It was a long career, and I enjoyed my career,” he said. “It really wasn’t until later in my career that I said, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll look at mid management’ because I had a lot of field and supervisory experience and program management experience. And I love that stuff. I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this until I plan to retire.’
“But that didn’t come to fruition because of Mr. Chipman.”