Top General Cleared on Claim of Improper Relationship with Female Aide

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Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not have an inappropriate relationship with a female Marine captain, the Pentagon inspector general has concluded after an internal investigation into alleged misconduct by the U.S. military's second-in-command.

The primary incident described in the heavily redacted report obtained by Fox News concerns a trip to the city of Tbilisi in the nation of Georgia on March 30, 2009. The inspector general's report describes an incident in which an unidentified female aide to Cartwright became intoxicated along with other members of Cartwright's security detail before she fell asleep on a bench in the general's room.

The door to the room remained ajar, but Cartwright's "failure to correct" behavioral shortcomings, i.e. the intoxication of a favorite aide on two separate occasions, "was inconsistent with established leadership requirements," the report concluded.

Fox News obtained the report, which was completed in March 2010, about the alleged misconduct and spoke to those who worked alongside Cartwright and the aide during that period.

The allegations were based on an anonymous tip to the inspector general's office, and some of those who worked in the past with Cartwright believe that the allegations are the result of professional jealousy and may be a vendetta launched by those who don't want to see Cartwright rise to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Such allegations would be sure to arise in any Senate confirmation hearing if Cartwright were nominated for the post.

Former aides to Cartwright say that the relationship with the female aide was closer than usual but fell within the range of discretion and was consistent with Cartwright's leadership style in terms of having a close-knit circle of trusted aides.

Cartwright is said to be among Defense Secretary Robert Gates' leading choices to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Adm. Mike Mullen's tenure ends in October. Cartwright was described in Bob Woodward's book, "Obama's Wars" as having "most favored General status" with the President.

He is known for innovative ideas and providing military advice that often challenges the rest of the military establishment, according those who have worked with him during National Security meetings.

Gates' spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement Wednesday that Gates believed "the matter has been properly adjudicated and the case is closed."

Three of the four allegations of impropriety were unsubstantiated, including allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship, according to Pentagon officials familiar with the report. On the fourth allegation, it was concluded that possible favoritism had occurred.

The Marine Corps Manual stipulates that every Marine is obligated to ensure that special trust and confidence of their superiors is "wholly deserved" and transcends the bonds of personal friendship. The inspector general's report concluded that Cartwright had failed to fulfill leadership responsibilities in a manner consistent with his "requirement of exemplary conduct" as well as "military leadership and "responsibility."

The aide no longer works for Cartwright's office. She went to study at the National Defense University, a prestigious military academy.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus reviewed the findings and after consulting with Navy and Defense lawyers concluded that Cartwright's behavior did not rise to any level of reprimand. Mabus's findings were reflected in a May 10, 2010 memo to the inspector general in which the secretary wrote "there is no evidence that the relationship between Gen. Cartwright and his aide was romantic or sexual in nature."

In a Feb. 17, 2010 letter to the inspector general's office responding to the allegations, Cartwright disagreed with the conclusions of the investigation, characterizing it as "relying on the scattered opinions and perceptions without factual substantiation."

The principal incident described in the report occurred during a short visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after the Russians invaded the small NATO ally. Cartwright was sent to Georgia to meet its president. The general's team team was ordered to stay in a small section of the hotel that had been secured for them by the Cartwright's personal security detail.

The report says that before boarding the plane to return home, several off-duty security personnel and the aide went to the hotel bar and became intoxicated. The female captain then went back to the room where Cartwright was staying, a room that had been set up as the secure communications center back to Washington. She fell asleep on a bench at the foot of the bed for at least 45 minutes with Cartwright in the room before the team returned to Washington.

The report concluded that the female captain felt she "had license to visit General Cartwright in his room in Tbilisi at night and while intoxicated, even after being advised against that visit by a member of the security team."

It went on to chastise Cartwright for allowing the aide "to remain in his Tbilisi hotel room for some period of time, after realizing [the aide] fell asleep from the effects of alcohol, on the foot of his bed."

The perception was that of impropriety though the door remained open to the hotel corridor while the general was on secure computers back to the Pentagon, according to those familiar with the incident.

The report also outlines a second incident involving the aide becoming intoxicated in public, this time at the January 2009 Alfalfa Club Dinner, a Washington annual event where politicians make humorous speeches. The report says that with President Obama set to take the stage and the general in the audience, the inebriated aide provoked an argument with Secret Service agents in a waiting area outside the dining room.

Though Cartwright ordered a subordinate to take the aide home, no disciplinary action was taken against her.

"The investigation was thorough. General Cartwright cooperated fully. The allegations were unsubstantiated," said Cartwright's spokesman Maj. Cliff Gilmore. "It's important that we have this system that allows for anonymous complaints to come forward and be heard. The General feels that it is important for people at this level to face this level of scrutiny."