Senators tear into Marines on nude photo scandal

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Trump: ‘Dems have a death wish’ Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-N.Y.) was furious at the head of the Marine Corps during a hearing Tuesday on the nude photo sharing scandal rocking the service, raising her voice at the commandant when asking why no one has been held accountable since the first reports of online harassment came to light in 2013.

Frustration at the lack of progress addressing the issue was palpable among the entire Senate Armed Services Committee, while the New York lawmaker who has made combatting military sexual assault a key focus of her tenure tore in Gen. Robert Neller, demanding to know why nothing has been done.

“I have to say when you say to us it’s got to be different, that rings hollow,” Gillibrand said. “I don’t know what you mean when you say that. Why does it have to different? Because you, all of a sudden, feel it has to be different? Who has been held accountable? … Who has been held responsible? Have you actually investigated and found guilty anybody?

ADVERTISEMENT
"If we can’t crack Facebook, how are we supposed to be able to confront Russian aggression and cyber hacking throughout our military? It is a serious problem when we have members of our military denigrating female Marines who will give their life to this country in the way they have with no response from leadership. I can tell you your answers today are unsatisfactory. They do not go far enough.”

Neller responded by taking responsibility, but said he couldn’t provide an answer to Gillibrand.

“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Neller said. “I’m not going to sit here and duck around this thing. I’m not. I’m responsible. I’m the commandant. I own this. And we are going to have to, and I know you’ve heard it before, but we’re going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we do, how we treat each other.

"That’s a lame answer, but ma’am, that’s the best I can tell you right now. We’ve got to change. And that’s on me.”

The committee heard testimony Tuesday from Neller, acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley and Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green about “Marines United,” a 30,000 person Facebook group where Marines allegedly shared nude photos of female Marines. Some of the photos where taken and posted without the women’s knowledge and some of the comments on the page allegedly include rape threats.

The page was first revealed by nonprofit military news organization The War Horse, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is now investigating Marines involved.

Tuesday’s testimony provided a couple new details in the case: Investigators believe that just 500 or so members of the Facebook group participated in the behavior being investigated now, and NCIS has received 53 calls on its tip line so far.

Neller also told the committee that he’s visiting Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Wednesday to directly speak to Marines about the issue.

Gillibrand highlighted a 2013 letter from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to then-Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? MORE and then-Marines Commandant Gen. James Amos that talked about a number of Facebook pages on which male Marines were denigrating female Marines.

“There’s no mystery that this has been going on for a very long time,” she said. “It was right in front of you and the command to do something about since 2013.”

She also expressed anger that commanders have argued for years to keep the power to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault and other serious crimes, while not addressing the issue. Gillibrand has tried unsuccessfully for years to take such decisions away from commanders and give them to independent military prosecutors.

“You have demanded they maintain control of all these issues,” she said. “But where’s the accountability for failure? Who’s been held accountable for doing nothing since 2013? Who? Which commander?”

Other members of the committee — male and female, Republican and Democrat — expressed similar frustrations.

“I appreciate your statements and the statements of everyone here about needing to address this issue,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenErnst: Intelligence agencies should question Trump’s interpreter, not Congress Overnight Defense: More Trump drama over Russia | Appeals court rules against Trump on transgender ban | Boeing wins Air Force One contract | Military parade to reportedly cost M Top Dem lawmaker pushing committee for closed-door debrief with Trump’s interpreter MORE (D-N.H.) said. “But understand that this committee has heard those kinds of statements for as long as I've been on the committee and I think much longer. So, it's hard to believe that something is really going to be done when we hear this repeated again and again, and we see these kinds of situations again and again.”

Shortly afterward, Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post MORE (R-Neb.) said the behavior has “gone on for too long,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the behavior “despicable and disgusting.”

“I think also many of us share the passion and impatience that Sen. Gillibrand expressed very powerfully because there have been instances in the past,” he added. “And your acknowledgement that perhaps the past violations of trust and law have not been addressed significantly aggressively may give us some comfortable here, but I think we’re all going to watch closely.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP strategist: Putin press conference 'made Trump look weak' Release of Carter Page surveillance documents reignites debate Graham: Warrant for Carter Page surveillance was 'a bunch of garbage' MORE (R-S.C.) later called the scandal “devastatingly bad” for recruitment of female Marines and labeled it “one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Marine Corps.”

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Polling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes MORE (D-Mo.) said the Corps could deter the behavior by taking action against the Marines it has evidence on.

“If you go after the active Marines that you have evidence on and if they are dishonorable discharged,” she said, “that will begin to send the signal that many of us up here are desperate for you to send.”