The Center for American Progress fired two staffers suspected of being involved in leaking an email exchange that staffers thought reflected improper influence by the United Arab Emirates within the think tank, according to three sources with knowledge of the shake-up. Both staffers were investigated for leaking the contents of an internal email exchange to The Intercept, but neither of the former employees was The Intercept’s source.
One of those fired, Ken Gude, was a senior national security staffer. He worked at CAP since 2003 and previously served as the progressive think tank’s chief of staff.
A CAP spokesperson acknowledged two employees were fired as a result of the leak investigation, but said that the leak was not the reason they were fired: “We are not going to discuss internal personnel matters, but no one was fired at CAP for leaking or whistleblowing.” Internally, however, multiple members of CAP leadership have used the leak as the leading rationale for the firings in multiple settings, sources said.
At issue was an internal debate over how to frame CAP’s response to the murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered by Saudi Arabian officials inside the nation’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The initial draft of the CAP’s statement condemned the killing and Saudi Arabia’s role in it, calling for specific consequences. Brian Katulis, a Gulf expert at CAP, objected to the specific consequences proposed in an email exchange with other national security staffers, according to sources who described the contents of the thread to The Intercept.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia’s closest ally, is one of the top donors to the think tank. Katulis is close with the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba.
Katulis is CAP’s link to Otaiba. As The Intercept has previously reported, Katulis worked with the diplomat to help organize UAE-sponsored trips to the wealthy Gulf country for American think tank experts, according to emails purloined from Otaiba’s Hotmail inbox.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has experienced lots of drama the past couple years. In April, the think tank was bashed for its response to sexual harassment claims.