A Marine Corps general who is among a small number of senior officers in the running to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been cleared of allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a subordinate, according to documents released Wednesday.
The Pentagon inspector general's office, which conducted the probe, found no evidence that Gen. James E. Cartwright had any kind of romantic relationship with the female officer. The inspector general, however, did criticize the general for failing to discipline the woman, who was found to have behaved in an unprofessional manner after having too much to drink.
Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, discarded the inspector general's recommendation that administrative action be taken against Cartwright in connection with the probe's findings.
The inspector general's probe looked into two events in 2009 in which a junior aide to Cartwright became intoxicated. On March 31, 2009, the aide, distraught over a personal problem at home, passed out on a bench at the foot of Cartwright's hotel room bed in Tbilisi, Georgia, and remained in the general's room for several hours while Cartwright continued to work with the door open.
"We stand by our initial conclusion that Gen. Cartwright did not correct obvious behavioral shortcomings" by the aide, who was not identified, the heavily redacted inspector general report states.
The Navy secretary, who is responsible for disciplinary action against high-ranking Navy and Marine Corps officers, disagreed with that conclusion.
"Although Gen. Cartwright might have handled a specific situation with his aide differently during the early morning hours of 31 March 2009, I believe his decisions that morning as well as his other decisions so carefully reviewed in this investigation were within the range of reasonable discretion entrusted to a senior office," Mabus wrote in a memo to the inspector general.
In early January, the same aide had too much to drink at an Alfalfa Club dinner, an annual gathering of Washington's elite, and argued with a Secret Service agent, according to the Pentagon inspector general's report.
"Gen. Cartwright witnessed . . . questionable conduct in both Tbilisi and at the Alfalfa dinner, but chose not to directly confront or correct. . . [the] behavior," the report states. "We conclude that Gen. Cartwright did not fulfill his responsibility to impress upon [the subordinate officer] the importance of sobriety and sound judgment."
Cartwright told investigators that none of the behavior by his staff could be considered "dissolute," prompting the investigators to quote the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word in an effort to show that the general was mistaken.
The dictionary defines the word as "lacking in restraint, especially marked by indulgence in things . . . deemed vices," the Pentagon report states.
The Pentagon inspector general's findings and the Navy secretary's response were first reported by The New York Times.
A spokesman for Cartwright said that the investigation into the complaints against the general showed that he had done nothing wrong.
"The investigation into the anonymous allegations was thorough," the spokesman, Maj. Clifford Gilmore, said in a statement. "Gen. Cartwright believes it's important to have a system that allows anonymous complaints to be heard and appropriate for leaders, especially at his level, to be open to this degree of scrutiny."