The Navy’s highest-ranking uniformed officer said under oath Monday that he never saw any misconduct at the 1991 Tailhook aviators convention and was unaware until months later that women were abused there.
“I didn’t know of anything that happened at Tailhook,” Adm. Frank B. Kelso II testified at a military court hearing for two officers charged in the scandal.
He told military judge William T. Vest Jr. that he was never on the third floor of the Las Vegas Hilton on Sept. 7, 1991, when 83 women have said they were subjected to sexual assault or harassment.
Former Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III testified later that he was on the third floor that night and did not see Kelso or any wrongdoing.
Kelso, who is chief of naval operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Garrett testified in the cases of Cmdrs. Thomas Miller and Gregory Tritt. The pair face courts-martial for the Tailhook scandal unless Vest agrees to drop charges against them.
Defense lawyers say the charges should be thrown out because Kelso appointed the admiral overseeing the Tailhook cases and because Kelso’s location during the incidents is in dispute, giving him a stake in the prosecutions.
Kelso said he first heard of the sexual misconduct allegations when Lt. Paula Coughlin came forward to say she was a victim of abuse by her colleagues, about two months after the September, 1991, gathering.
“I was not there,” he said of the third-floor gathering.
He said that during the raucous third-floor party, he was on the hotel’s main floor, attending a speech by then-Navy Secretary Garrett. Afterward, he said, he went into the hotel’s casino to gamble.
Garrett said he went to the third-floor patio area. Although it was crowded, he said he was certain he would have seen Kelso if he were there because it is customary for the chief of naval operations to seek out the Navy secretary in social settings.
Garrett, who resigned last year over Tailhook, also said he saw nothing improper. He said he was aware of a room where men shaved women’s legs but did not try to stop the activity.
“I was assured by my aides that this was a purely voluntary action of both parties,” Garrett said. “Maybe I should be more prudish, but I am not.”
Defense attorneys say they have written statements from more than 30 people who placed Kelso on the third floor that Saturday night.
Robert Rae, Tritt’s civilian lawyer, read the names of three admirals and several others who told Pentagon investigators they saw Kelso there.
Kelso has not been accused of wrongdoing. He has received a non-punitive “letter of caution” for attending the convention.
Two months ago, Navy Secretary John Dalton tried to fire Kelso, saying the 60-year-old admiral showed a lack of leadership in the scandal.
Kelso kept his job when Defense Secretary Les Aspin overruled Dalton.