Report faults top Pentagon aide’s behavior

Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press

Washington — A Pentagon investigation has concluded that Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s former senior military aide used his government credit card at strip clubs or gentlemen’s clubs in Rome and Seoul, drank in excess and had “improper interactions” with women, The Associated Press has learned.

The report by the Defense Department’s inspector general says Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis improperly used his credit card, lied to a bank to get charges removed and, more broadly, said he was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to people familiar with the report. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the report before its release.

Lewis, who was fired nearly a year ago by Carter, submitted a written rebuttal slamming the investigation. Lewis asserted that the inspector general had amassed an inaccurate and inflammatory case based on innuendo and had failed to “find the truth.”

In the rebuttal, which was obtained by the AP, Lewis denied that the bar in Rome was a strip club and denied that he went to a strip or gentleman’s club in Seoul, South Korea, in an area of the city that the report calls “Hooker Hill.”

Kathie Scarrah, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, confirmed that Lewis was investigated for allegations that he “misused his government travel charge card for personal expenses; made false official statements regarding his government travel card misuse; and engaged in other inappropriate behavior.” She provided no other details, but said the inspector general substantiated the allegations and recommended the Army “take appropriate action.”

The full report has not yet been made public. It was expected to be released Thursday.

Army spokesman Col. Pat Seiber issued a statement: “The Army only recently received the DoD IG investigation regarding Maj. Gen. Lewis, and is currently evaluating the investigation to determine what administrative or disciplinary actions may be appropriate. The Army takes allegations of misconduct seriously and demands all senior leaders, regardless of rank, uphold the highest standards of moral character and competence.”

Lewis, in his rebuttal, took responsibility for several inappropriate actions, including charging nearly $1,800 on his government credit card at what he called a “dance club” in Rome. In an embarrassing set of circumstances, Lewis said he tried to use his personal debit card at the club, but it didn’t work, so he had to walk back to his hotel with a female employee of the club, and wake up a Defense Department staff member to get his government card to pay the bill. He said he paid back the charges when he returned to the U.S.

The report identified the club as Cica Cica Boom, but Lewis said he did not go to that strip club. He said he went to a “high-end establishment with a respectable clientele that had a DJ, a bar area and a dance floor where couples were dancing.” A photo of Cica Cica Boom shows a sign above the doorway that also advertises lap dances there.

Lewis has been serving as a special assistant to Lt. Gen. James McConville, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel matters. He was a lieutenant general while in his most recent job working for Carter, but because he has been out of his three-star job for some time, his rank automatically reverted to two stars, as required by military regulations.

Lewis had shot up the promotional ladder, and his job with Carter stemmed from their close professional relationship. He had served as an aide for Carter when he was the deputy defense secretary.

In Korea, the report said, Lewis went to a gentleman’s club called the Candy Bar. Lewis said he did not go there, but did go to a commercial area of Seoul. He said that when he returned to Washington and saw two charges on his credit card totally about $1,100, he called the bank to have them removed and the bank agreed.

Investigators presented him with two receipts from the club bearing the name “Candy.” Both receipts show only a short pen mark in the signature area, and do not show his written name.

The report says investigators, after getting Lewis’ rebuttal, went back and checked their information, and said they stand by their findings.

The report paints a broad picture of a senior officer who often went out alone on overseas trips, and who drank in excess in some instances. The report also describes a night in Hawaii last November — just days before Lewis was fired — when he went to dinner and later went back to his room with a lower-ranking enlisted service member. The report says she told investigators that Lewis approached her and appeared to want to kiss her, but she stopped him and left.

Lewis said there was another staff member in the hotel room for much of the time, and that even when he was alone with the enlisted service member “our discussions remained the type of conversation a command team would engage in.” He said he has known the service member for several years.

The report also includes a description of Lewis sharing a cigar with a female Defense Department staff member during drinks in Malaysia with a large number of other staff and members of the media. It says others there said they were uncomfortable with Lewis’ actions and said he was sitting too close to the staff member.

The report does not suggest that Lewis had an extramarital affair or that he had sex with any of the other women. And Lewis, in his rebuttal, criticizes the report for relying on insinuations and statements from people who may have distorted the facts or didn’t actually see what happened.

According to officials with knowledge of the matter, the allegations of misconduct, which first surfaced after the November overseas trip with Carter, stunned the secretary and sent shockwaves through the Pentagon.

The report will now go to Army leaders who will determine what, if any, punishment is required and at what rank Lewis would be able to retire.