US admiral cleared of misconduct in Pentagon probe

The head of U.S. European Command has been cleared of misconduct after a lengthy Pentagon investigation into travel and expense questions that derailed his chances last year of becoming the Navy's top military officer, according to senior U.S. defense officials.

A Pentagon Inspector General's report has found that Navy Adm. James Stavridis failed to exercise enough oversight of his staff and made several record-keeping and reimbursement errors, including for trips he took with his wife, daughter and mother.

After reviewing the IG report, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus concluded that Stavridis did not did not misuse his office. Instead, Mabus attributed most of the 10 allegations to reporting and accounting missteps that Stavridis quickly corrected.

"I have determined that Adm. Stavridis never attempted to use his public office for private gain nor did he commit personal misconduct," said Mabus in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. Instead, he said the problems "reflect poor attention to administrative detail by the office."

Officials provided details about the investigation on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about a report that has not yet been released publicly.

The only disciplinary action doled out by Mabus was a discussion with Stavridis about the need to have better oversight and to improve reporting procedures and documentation requirements for travel expenses. Stavridis' current job, which also includes his position of NATO supreme allied commander, is not affected.

The most significant disagreement between the inspector general's report and Mabus' conclusions was over Stavridis' use of a military aircraft to attend a dinner in Dijon, France. The report concluded that the trip to a dinner sponsored by a wine society provided mainly social and cultural benefits for Stavridis, and said the admiral should have sought permission to attend the event.

Mabus disagreed, and instead concurred with Stavridis' argument that the Dijon trip was an official event because he gave a speech in full uniform and spent several hours meeting there with France's chief of defense. He said the time with the French military leader was valuable and consistent with Stavridis' NATO duties.

The report said Stavridis probably would have gotten approval for the trip if he had asked.

Although Mabus did not agree with the inspector general's finding on the Dijon event, he did not dispute the other allegations. Instead, he concluded that those issues were resolved, and that Stavridis had either quickly corrected the problems or repaid any additional money needed.

Stavridis said the 14-hour trip to Dijon allowed him to talk about NATO's Afghanistan mission with a key defense leader and give a speech in French to an international audience of 600.

Mabus concluded that the issues were all resolved.

Still, the investigation had a crippling effect on Stavridis' career.

An ambitious officer, Stavridis rose rapidly through the Navy ranks and served as the senior military adviser -- and frequent squash partner -- with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He headed U.S. Southern Command for three years and took over European Command in 2009.

Last year, he was a top contender for the job of chief of naval operations -- the Navy's most senior military leader. And many considered him an eventual candidate for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But as rumors about the inspector general's investigation swirled last year, top Pentagon and U.S. leaders, including then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, decided not to recommend Stavridis for the Navy post.