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Navy’s choice to head Naval Operations to step down amid call for inspector general’s investigation

U.S. Navy Adm. Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, speaks with sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington on Jan. 10, 2018. (JAMIN GORDON/U.S. NAVY)

The Navy’s choice to lead the sea service and join the Joint Chiefs of Staff has declined the appointment after a request for his emails by USA TODAY prompted a call for an inspector general’s investigation.

Adm. Bill Moran had been selected to be Chief of Naval Operations, and his nomination was confirmed by the Senate in May. He had been slated to take over August 1.

The Secretary of the Navy has accepted Moran’s request to retire.

USA TODAY has been seeking emails between Moran and a former Navy spokesman who had worked for Moran. Retired Navy Cdr. Chris Servello had also worked for Adm. John Richardson, the outgoing Chief of Naval Operations.

Servello and Richardson were rebuked by Navy officials after Servello had acted boorishly at an office Christmas party and Richardson was slow to discipline him.

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“I made this difficult decision based on an open investigation into the nature of some of my personal email correspondence over the past couple of years and for continuing to maintain a professional relationship with a former staff officer, now retired, who had while in uniform been investigated and held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior,” Moran said in a written statement.

His abrupt resignation follows the unrelated decision last month by Patrick Shanahan to withdraw from consideration as the next Defense Secretary after USA TODAY and others revealed details of his turbulent divorce and family life.

The FOIA request has not yet been filled so the contents of the private emails exchanged by Moran and Servello are unclear. However, official Navy business must be conducted on government accounts.

The investigation stemmed from an office Christmas party in 2016 during which Servello, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, slapped a civilian woman’s buttocks. Later, at an after-party, Servello allegedly made sexual advances in a “predatory” way toward subordinate officers.

The Pentagon has been rocked by several scandals involving senior officer misconduct in recent years. A 2017 USA TODAY investigation found more than 500 cases of serious lapses, almost half of them involving personal or ethical lapses.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in a statement that he accepted Moran’s request to retire because the admiral maintaining a professional relationship during the past two years with a disciplined former staffer “caused me to call his judgment into question.”

“I have a strong vision for the Department of the Navy – one that includes trust among sailors, Marines, and civilians and an urgent resolve by all to live up to the nation’s high standards for our Navy and Marine Corps,” he said.

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“Department leadership must reflect that vision, and there must be no doubt we are wholly committed to ensuring a culture and work environment where every person is treated with dignity and respect and free from hostile behavior of any kind.”

The Pentagon’s inspector general declined to say if the office has opened an investigation.

“As a matter of general practice, the DOD inspector general does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations,” spokeswoman Dwrena Allen said.

Contributing: Donovan Slack

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© 2019 USA Today

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.