Lawmakers have few worries about the top American and NATO general in Afghanistan staying on the job despite being under investigation for possible poor judgment and conduct
President Barack Obama froze Allen’s nomination to become U.S. European Command and NATO chief earlier this week after the FBI and Pentagon revealed Allen had traded up to 30,000 pages of emails with the woman who sparked the FBI probe that led to former CIA Director David Petraeus’ Nov. 6 resignation. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the Pentagon inspector general to look into those emails and Allen’s relationship with the woman, Jill Kelley of Tampa, Fla.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Nov. 14 that the Pentagon IG should be allowed to finish the investigation before any decisions are made. Reporters pressed Levin about whether Allen’s involvement in the scandal and the IG probe would affect the recommendation for U.S. troop levels the general is set to deliver Obama in coming weeks.
“That’s a good question,” Levin said, but quickly added: “Unless there is some evidence of wrongdoing, there shouldn’t be any impact.”
Sen. Robert Corker, R-Tenn., a Foreign Relations Committee member, also told reporters the current process should play out before any decisions regarding Allen’s status are made.
A senior House aide said “we don’t know enough yet,” but added that anyone who wonders whether Allen should at least take a leave of absence during the IG investigation “might have a point.”
Three influential GOP senators on Nov. 15 made clear they believe Allen should stay on the job.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz., gave Allen a vote of confidence at the outset of a hearing to consider the nomination of Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford to replace Allen in Kabul. Allen was initially slated to appear beside Dunford over his now-frozen confirmation for the U.S. European Command and NATO jobs.
“I continue to believe that Gen. Allen is one of our best military leaders,” McCain said. “And I continue to have confidence in his ability to lead the war in Afghanistan.”
GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is slated to take over as ranking member when the next Congress is seated in January, later made a point to associate himself with McCain’s assessment of Allen. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did the same.
McCain did say the panel is waiting for a Panetta-ordered Pentagon IG probe into Allen’s conduct to conclude. But the trio went further than many of their colleagues by endorsing Allen even though the IG probe of his conduct and relationship with the so-called Tampa socialite is just days old.
Some lawmakers conceded that Allen remaining on the job creates an awkward situation in theater. After all, the Marine general has been critical of troops who have engaged in questionable activities in Afghanistan.
When an American soldier earlier this year allegedly went on a rampage in a village, Allen dubbed the alleged mass homicide “deeply appalling.” And he took the unusual step of publicly apologizing to Afghan leaders and citizens after U.S. troops burned Korans, the Muslim holy book, allegedly by mistake.
Though an extramarital relationship or even a chummy one with Kelley, an unpaid social liaison for the U.S. military in Tampa, would not rise to the level of those incidents, some question whether it is appropriate for a wartime general to be taking the time to trade tens of thousands of pages of email with her.
Retired Gen. James “Spider” Kelly told CNN on Nov. 14 that even shy of extramarital shenanigans, “30,000 pages of email is a lot of time to be spending on the computer with a party planner.”
Levin called the number of pages of electronic messages an “astounding number.”
Several other lawmakers — Republican and Democratic — declined to comment when asked whether it is appropriate for a commander to remain in office when being investigated for possible poor conduct and judgment.
But several paused and took breaths and appeared to be mulling the situation before opting against answering a reporter’s question.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., declined to say whether it is appropriate for Allen to remain as the war’s top general. But he did warn about possible distractions the scandal might cause.
“We have to make sure this doesn’t prevent us from making good decisions with regard to Afghanistan,” Casey told Defense News. “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball.”