Sen. Cruz Probe Reveals U.S. Coast Guard’s Unlawful Use of NDAs to Silence Sexual Assault Victims

April 8, 2024

Refers Matter to DHS IG, GAO, and Special Counsel for Further Investigation  

WASHINTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today revealed that his investigation into past sexual assaults at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has uncovered new information. According to records obtained by the Committee, the U.S. Coast Guard illegally prohibited sexual assault victims from disclosing information to anyone, including Congress, about the assaults or investigations through the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The Coast Guard’s apparent silencing of victims was not only wrong, but also illegal, as Sen. Cruz’s letter explains.

Following this revelation, Sen. Cruz is formally referring the matter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Special Counsel for further investigation. Sen. Cruz is also demanding the Coast Guard turn over additional information to Congress on its use of unlawful NDAs and commit to withdrawing or correcting them.

In his letter to USCG Admiral Linda Fagan, Sen. Cruz writes,  

“According to records my staff recently received, the United States Coast Guard (Coast Guard) has illegally prohibited personnel, including victims of sexual assaults, from disclosing to Congress information about those sexual assaults and the mishandling of investigations of those assaults. 

“Specifically, the Coast Guard implemented non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) purporting to prohibit victims and others from disclosing information about sexual assaults and related investigations, to anyone, including Congress. As detailed below, those NDAs are both unacceptable and unlawful. Requiring victims to agree not to discuss what happened to them is particularly reprehensible.” 

“This recent revelation of prohibited NDAs comes on the heels of the Coast Guard’s failure to alert Congress to its investigation of sexual assaults at the Academy through Operation Fouled Anchor, resistance to interview requests by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (the Committee), and perplexing answers from flag officer nominees regarding future candor with Congress. The Coast Guard’s actions suggest a concerted effort to conceal past sexual assaults at the Academy. Accordingly, I write to request additional information and your personal commitment to withdraw or correct any unlawful NDAs... 

The letter explains how Sen. Cruz’s investigation uncovered several ways in which the Coast Guard impeded congressional oversight. 

“For example, as part of this review, the Committee interviewed several Coast Guard personnel in furtherance of its constitutionally mandated duty to provide advice and consent on those Guardsmen’s promotions. The Coast Guard resisted allowing interviews of attorneys involved with Operation Fouled Anchor investigations on the grounds of privilege. Meanwhile, in their Committee questionnaires, Coast Guard personnel seeking the Senate’s confirmation of their promotion to the level of Rear Admiral and above provided only a conditional commitment to be honest and transparent with Congress. …”

“… When asked why they could not answer with a simple “Yes.”—as they had in the preceding four questions—the Coast Guardsmen said the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of General Counsel directed them to provide that response. None were able to identify a DHS policy or guidance that supersedes federal laws requiring honest testimony before Congress. ...”

“… A final example—and one reason that the Coast Guard may have been successful in hiding the Operation Fouled Anchor investigation from Congress and the public for so long—was that it had at least some of those involved in Operation Fouled Anchor either sign an NDA or orally agree to an NDA, forbidding them from speaking about the investigations. This included not only investigators but also ‘victims, subjects, and witnesses. …’”  

“... NDAs that restrict communication with Congress constitute an Anti-Deficiency Act violation, a prohibited personnel practice, and a felony (if done knowingly and willfully).  

“These NDAs purport to restrict Coast Guardsmen’s communication with anyone, including Congress, and thus are plainly illegal. The NDAs also omit legally required language protecting federal employees’ constitutional right to provide information to Congress and other officials.” 

Sen. Cruz pledged to continue the Committee’s investigation and also referred the matter to the DHS Inspector General, GAO, and the Special Counsel for review. 

“… The Coast Guard’s actions have the appearance of a years-long concerted effort to conceal information about rapes and other sexual assaults at the Academy, from Congress and the public, which Congress must take extremely seriously.  In particular, the Coast Guard may have actively and unlawfully sought to prohibit its personnel from reporting those sexual assaults and their investigations, including Operation Fouled Anchor, to Congress. …” 

“… To that end, we are referring this matter to the DHS Inspector General to investigate, the Comptroller General to review for Anti-Deficiency Act violations, and the Special Counsel for investigation of possible prohibited personnel practices by members of the civil service.” 

Sen. Cruz concluded by asking the Coast Guard to answer a series of written questions and provide data to better understand the broader use and implications of NDAs within the organization no later than April 22, 2024.

To read Sen. Cruz’s full letter to the Coast Guard, CLICK HERE.