Michael Cutrone: Watchdog Report Finds Former Pentagon Official Created Toxic Work Environment | CNN Politics

By | June 7, 2023

The US Air Force Staff Sergeant. Jackie Sanders/DOD/DVIDS


A newly released Defense Department Inspector General investigation found that a former senior Pentagon executive berated and belittled subordinates, cursed at them, made some employees cry, and generally created a toxic work environment.

Michael Cutrone served as principal deputy and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from May 2020 to January 2021, when he stepped down. The Department of Defense inspector general said in a new report released Wednesday that Cutrone repeatedly harassed subordinates and created an intimidating, hostile and abusive work environment.

Subordinates with decades of DoD experience have described Mr. Cutrone as the most toxic boss they have ever worked for and someone who poisoned self-confidence, created divisions and was hated and despised by his workforce, says the IG report.

Cutrone was installed in the Pentagon by then-President Donald Trump in an effort to place more officials in the department that The Washington Post described as having unquestioning allegiance to the president, citing the officials.

The IG said in its report that while Cutrone did not often deny his conduct, he did tell investigators he did not recall specific cases mentioned by witnesses. He acknowledged to investigators that he fell short in some respects despite his intentions to be a positive leader.

The report also found that Cutrone consumed alcohol in the Pentagon without written permission, which he said was occasionally done after office hours and was a misunderstanding of policy.

CNN was unable to reach Cutrone for comment on the report.

Cutrone received the interim findings of the report from the IG in January this year and told investigators he disagreed that he had failed to treat subordinates with dignity and respect and had created a hostile work environment.

Mr. Cutrone attributed his disagreements to his belief that the DoD IG failed to understand and consider the appropriate context of the [ASD(ISA)] work environment and the time it takes to complete the survey, the report said.

Complaints about Cutrone started pouring in on Dec. 15, 2020, according to the IG report, when the Department of Defense hotline received an anonymous complaint that he had made two employees cry, berated and yelled at his employees. Two days later, two more anonymous complaints that Cutrone verbally abused his employees were referred to the IG to investigate.

Cutrone stepped down from his post in January 2021, before the IG began an investigation in February 2021.

The IG eventually interviewed 31 witnesses who worked with Cutrone; of those 31, four people used positive terms to describe his leadership as hardworking, ambitious, charismatic, and energetic.

All 31 witnesses, however, including the four who used positive terms, described his leadership style negatively, using terms such as combative, overbearing, overly abrasive, and unprofessional.

Witnesses said Cutrone ignored Covid-19 mitigation policies at the Pentagon, routinely ignoring a policy requiring masks in the building and telling subordinates they didn’t need to social distance. A witness claimed Cutrone took off his mask to show them how angry he was, the IG report said.

Witnesses also told the IG that Cutrone initiated a culture of gossip, asking staff about other employees and publicly disparaging those who worked for him in front of their colleagues. People told investigators that they felt miserable and depressed all the time, faced abuse every day that exhausted them, and found that they were pulling themselves into knots trying to determine the wording of language that would not somehow arouse the ire of [M]R. Cutrone.

Presented with employee comments on the impact of his leadership, Cutrone told investigators he tried to build a strong team and tried to do good for people.

I’ve always tried to just be a strong collegiate team member, and I’m sorry I ever made people feel nervous and unsure of what kind of commitment they were going to get, she said.

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