Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case

Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case
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The Pentagon’s internal watchdog admonished the Navy's top admiral on Friday for failing to immediately remove his spokesman following allegations of sexual misconduct.

The inspector general concluded that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s failure to take swift disciplinary action against his public affairs officer (PAO) was a “performance issue” but not misconduct. The inspector general recommended the secretary of the Navy review Richardson’s performance.

“Adm. Richardson had full authority to remove the PAO from his personal staff at any time,” the inspector general wrote. “We believe that Adm. Richardson’s failure to ensure that the PAO was removed from his personal staff in an expeditious manner – for 4 months after he decided to reassign the PAO and take administrative action against the PAO – sent the wrong message about how seriously Adm. Richardson took the allegations of sexual harassment.”

The inspector general's report included a statement from Richardson.

“I welcome the level of scrutiny shown by your investigation as it is appropriate to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, an office which must enjoy the public trust,” Richardson said. “I have learned a great deal from this incident and will use these lessons going forward.”

In a case it dubbed "Bad Santa," USA Today reported last year that Cdr. Chris Servello was allowed to remain Richardson’s spokesman after being accused by fellow officers and a civilian of making unwanted sexual passes and slapping a woman on the buttocks while dressed as Santa Claus at a 2016 office Christmas party.

Servello was reassigned in mid-August 2017, which USA Today noted came weeks after it began asking the Navy about the issue.

At the time, Richardson said he was following advice from his lawyers and waiting for the legal process to play out before firing Servello.

After the USA Today article, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLobbying world 2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' MORE (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanded an investigation by the inspector general.

In Friday’s report, investigators said Richardson made the decision to reassign Servello, provide him with an adverse fitness report and issue him a non‐punitive letter of caution in April 2017. But he did not issue the adverse fitness report and the letter until June 2017 and did not reassign Servello until August 2017, the report said.

Richardson told the inspector general that carrying out his April decisions “took far longer than it should have.”

“I take responsibility, and I have testified on the record that in hindsight, if I was going to do this all over again, I would have executed that part a lot more swiftly,” he is quoted as saying.

He also denied that USA Today’s inquiries had any effect on the reassignment, saying the decision was initially made in April.