Michael Cutrone FILE 110520
CNN  — 

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

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

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

Cutrone was installed at the Pentagon by then-President Donald Trump in an effort to put more officials into the department who the Washington Post described as having an “undisputed allegiance” to the president, citing officials.

The IG said in its report that while Cutrone often “did not deny his conduct,” he told investigators he could not recall the specific instances mentioned by witnesses. He acknowledged to investigators that he fell short in some regards despite his intentions to be a positive leader.

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

CNN has not been able to reach Cutrone for comment about the report.

Cutrone was provided tentative conclusions of the report by the IG in January this year and told investigators that he did not agree that he had failed to treat subordinates with dignity and respect, and that he 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)] working environment,’ and the time that it took to complete the investigation,” the report said.

Complaints about Cutrone began rolling in on December 15, 2020, according to the IG report, when the DoD Hotline received an anonymous complaint that he “made two employees cry” and “berated and yelled at his employees.” Two days later, two other anonymous complaints that said Cutrone “verbally abused” his employees were referred to the IG to investigate.

Cutrone resigned from his position in January 2021, before the IG began its investigation in February 2021.

The IG ultimately interviewed 31 witnesses who worked with Cutrone; of those 31, four people used “positive terms” to describe his leadership like “hard working,” “ambitious,” “charismatic,” and “energetic.”

All 31 witnesses, however, including the four that used positive terms, described his leadership style negatively, using terms like “combative,” “bully,” “overly abrasive,” and “unprofessional.”

Witnesses said that Cutrone ignored Covid-19 mitigation policies in the Pentagon, regularly disregarding a policy that required masks in the building and telling subordinates they didn’t need to social distance. One witness said that Cutrone would “remove his mask to show them how mad he was,” the IG report said.

Witnesses also told the IG that Cutrone “started a culture of gossip,” asking staff about other employees and was “publicly denigrating” of those who worked for him in front of their coworkers. People told investigators they felt “miserable and depressed all the time,” were facing “abuse every day” that “exhausted” them and found that they were bending themselves “in knots trying to determine the formulation of language that will not in some way raise the ire of [M]r. Cutrone.”

Presented with comments from employees about the impact of his leadership, Cutrone told investigators he “tried to build a strong team” and “tried to do good by people.”

“I always tried to just be a strong collegial team member … and I’m sorry that I ever made people feel on edge and uncertain about what kind of engagement they were going to get,” he said.