WASHINGTON (AP) — The lawyer selected to be the Army's first top prosecutor of sexual assaults under an overhaul of the military justice system has been fired because of an email he sent 10 years ago appearing to belittle victims’ assault allegations.
Brig. Gen. Warren Wells was removed from the job on Friday by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, just hours after she was given the email.
Wells was the Army's new lead special trial counsel for cases involving sexual assault and other top crimes — a job created as part of Congress' push to revamp a military justice system it believed could be overly deferential to service members accused of sexual misconduct. The office was expected to begin work around the end of the year.
In the email, sent to a number of his staff members in June 2013, Wells complained about what he said were false allegations by some alleged victims, pointing to the firing of an Army two-star general in Japan for failing to properly investigate a sexual assault charge in his command.
Wells, who was a lieutenant colonel and the Army's defense counsel for the Great Plains region in Kansas at the time, told his staff that “you and your teams are now the ONLY line of defense against false allegations and sobriety regret.” He told them they now were the only defenders of troops no one will defend, “even when all signs indicate innocence.”
“Congress and our political masters are dancing by the fire of misleading statistics and one-sided, repetitive misinformation by those with an agenda,” he said.
Wells’ comments, which were part of a longer staff email on other topics, raised questions about whether he could effectively and fairly do the new job — which is under a political microscope.
In a statement, Wormuth spokesperson Army Col. Randee Farrell said Wormuth relieved Wells of his duties “based on a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead” the Army office. Wormuth concluded that the email Wells sent “negatively characterized developments in sexual assault response at the time and was dismissive of the principle of civilian control of the military exercised by both the executive branch and Congress.”
In a statement provided to The Associated Press through the Army, Wells said the comments in his email were inappropriate.
“My intent was to reinforce that defense counsel were a critical protection for soldiers accused of wrongdoing,” he said. “I do not want my comments to divert attention from the excellent work being done by the new Office of Special Trial Counsel to prosecute special victim crimes and care for victims.”
He has been reassigned to another job on the Army staff, and Farrell said Wormuth has designated Army Col. Robert Rodrigues as the acting lead counsel. Rodrigues had been serving as Wells' deputy lead trial counsel.
Members of Congress have been frustrated for years with the military's prosecution of sexual assault cases and they pushed to remove commanders from the decision-making process on the cases. They charged that too often commanders would try to protect alleged perpetrators who were in their unit.
As a result, the Pentagon has been moving to a new system that uses independent military lawyers to handle sexual misconduct and some other major crimes.
According to Army officials, the email came to light as part of unrelated allegations of gender discrimination and other inappropriate behavior by Wells when dealing with a lower-ranking female officer a number of years ago. The allegations were made in a January email after Wells' Senate confirmation for the job was made public and he had started the job.
The email accused Wells of abuse of authority, mistreatment and gender discrimination while he was in the regional job in Kansas from 2012 to 2014. The complaint was reviewed by the Army inspector general and the Defense Department inspector general. Both concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated and there wasn't enough there to open a formal investigation.
According to officials, the woman, now a civilian, then went to the defense advisory committee that was set up to make recommendations on the sexual assault prosecution overhaul and submitted additional records. Officials said the email from Wells to his staff was among the documents she provided to the committee.
Wormuth received copies of the documents on Friday and after seeing the email fired Wells later that day.