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Senator calls for investigation into Navy ‘Bad Santa’ case

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., attends a Jan. 10, 2017, hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 9, 2017

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Friday called out Navy leadership for its slow response to alleged drunken sexual misconduct at a Pentagon Christmas party involving an aide to the service's top officer, demanding an independent review of the case by the Department of Defense Inspector General.

Navy Cmdr. Chris Servello, who had been Adm. John Richardson's spokesman, was accused by junior officers and a civilian of sexual misconduct while he wore a Santa Claus outfit at an office Christmas party inside the Pentagon in 2016, USA TODAY reported Thursday.

Servello was allowed to keep his post for nine months despite written warnings from an investigator that he was a sexual predator, and the recommendation that he be reassigned immediately to a post where he didn't supervise other officers, an investigation by the paper found.

Gillibrand took direct aim at Richardson and other senior leaders for not acting faster and more forcefully.

"I am extremely troubled that it appears senior Navy leadership turned a blind eye to this unacceptable behavior to show favor to a trusted aide to the detriment of not only the subjects of his unwanted advances but the entire Pentagon community who knew of this alleged abusive behavior yet saw no immediate action by their leaders," Gillibrand wrote to Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine.

"Failure of leadership in an instance such as this, if accurate, would directly undermine good order and discipline. It is essential we answer the question of who knew what, when, and why no action was taken to remove the alleged offender (even temporarily) from such an important, public position."

Richardson, in a statement on Thursday, said that he had followed the recommendations of prosecutors "to the letter," firing Servello from his staff and reassigning him to a non-supervisory post. He added that he had followed legal advice to safeguard the rights of Servello and the officers and civilians who had alleged assault and harassment.

Yet Richardson had received that same advice — firing Servello from his job as his spokesman and moving him to a post with no supervisory responsibilities and dedicated oversight — after an initial investigation was filed on Dec. 21, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.

Servello also issued a statement, saying he had cooperated with Navy investigators and pointed out that no criminal charges were filed in the case. He expressed regret for his poor judgment, noted that he had received administrative discipline and that his career will be unlikely to recover.

Gillibrand, in her letter, said the response from top Navy leadership to the Servello case appeared inadequate.

"The reactions of senior Navy leadership seem incongruent to Cdr. Servello's reported inappropriate behavior and warrant an independent, impartial party to fully examine the handling of this case," she wrote.

Documents show investigators believed that Servello had used his professional reputation as leverage to develop sexual relationships with younger officers. At the Christmas party, he was accused of slapping a civilian on the buttocks, a gesture she told investigators humiliating. A junior officer also accused him of giving her lingering, unwelcome hugs. After the party, he made advances toward another officer that prompted one of her colleagues to intercede.

©2017 USA Today
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