Advocacy group seeks probe into DOD statements on sexual assault

Advocacy group seeks probe into DOD statements on sexual assault

An advocacy group that alleges a Pentagon official misled Congress in testimony on sexual assault is calling on President Obama to approve an independent investigation into the matter.

Protect Our Defenders is also calling for the White House press secretary Josh Earnest to retract statements he made about the report.

“For Mr. Earnest to afford such little consideration to the gravity of the Pentagon’s deception is an affront to survivors, Congress and the brave men and women who serve our country,” retired Col. Don Christensen, president of the group, wrote in a letter to Obama on Wednesday.

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Last month, reports from Protect Our Defenders and The Associated Press alleged that then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld misled Congress in 2013 when he said that civilian prosecutors refused to prosecute 93 cases of sexual assault that were later pursued by military commanders.

In two-thirds of the cases the Pentagon cited, the defendant was never accused of sexual assault, civilian prosecutors did not decline the case, or the military chose not to prosecute the offender for sexual assault, according to Protect Our Defenders.

The testimony derailed a bill that would have taken military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command and given them to independent military prosecutors.

After the reports, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand shows off 'just trying to get some ranch' t-shirt Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight MORE (D-N.Y.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySeniors win big with Trump rebate rule  Klobuchar: ObamaCare a 'missed opportunity' to address drug costs Just one in five expect savings from Trump tax law: poll MORE (R-Iowa) wrote to Obama asking for an independent investigation. Gillibrand introduced the bill the testimony opposed.

When asked about the senators’ letter at a press briefing last week, Earnest said it was a matter for the Defense Department and Congress to resolve.

“What I'm observing at this point is that this information has been the subject of long-running controversy between Congress and the Department of Defense,” Earnest said. “And while this is an important issue, the difference of agreement about the presentation of this information is something that they're going to have to resolve between Congress and the Department of Defense.

“It's important that this bureaucratic dispute not overshadow the way that the president has made this a top priority when it comes to military policy.”

In his letter Wednesday, Christensen said Earnest’s comments were dismissive.

“Mr. Earnest’s dismissive comments demonstrate a shocking lack of knowledge of the facts,” Christensen wrote to Obama. “Contrary to his mischaracterization, the concern is not over a mere difference of opinion or interpretation. Rather, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) own case files directly contradict Adm. Winnefeld’s testimony and subsequent letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said he’s investigating whether Winnefeld’s information was accurate in light of the reports.

But Protect Our Defenders wants an independent investigation.

“Further,” Christensen wrote, “the White House should respond affirmatively to the bipartisan request for an independent investigation into who within the Pentagon is responsible for the false testimony and how such clearly erroneous information was provided to Congress.”