Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel faces another obstacle in his already contentious fight for confirmation as the Obama administration’s next secretary of defense.
According to Foreign Policy, the Senate Armed Services Committee is investigating a sexual harassment allegation by a former Hagel staffer. The unnamed staffer has been interviewed by the committee about an incident that took place in 2007.
The staffer, whose allegation was found credible by committee staff, does not involve Hagel directly. Instead, the investigation appears to center on whether Hagel knew of the incident and whether it was handled appropriately.
Hagel’s former chief of staff Lou Ann Linehan, who oversaw the disciplinary process now being reviewed, dismissed the allegation and denied that the misconduct was “actually sexual harassment”:
"I remember handling it, I thought it was handled. I did not bring it to the senator. I would not have taken it to the senator unless it required a termination and that wasn't the case," she said. "The term sexual harassment shocks me a little bit. I wouldn't have put up with anything that was actually sexual harassment.”
Sexual harassment has been a major problem in the military and hearings were held on Capitol Hill just two weeks ago in relation to a rash of sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base. The Air Force Academy has struggled with its own scandals surrounding inappropriate treatment of female cadets that went well beyond harassment.
A 2005 report by the Pentagon found that sexual harassment and sexual assault at US military academies were flourishing under a leadership culture that turned a blind eye to the problem.
“Harassment is the more prevalent and corrosive problem, creating an environment in which sexual assault is more likely to occur… the obligation not to engage in or tolerate sexually harassing behavior is a values and leadership issue,” the report stated. “Sexual harassment and assault are fundamentally at odds with the obligation of men and women in uniform to treat all with dignity and respect. Those who seek to be future leaders in the Armed Services are obligated to uphold standards—not only in their own conduct but also in their response to the conduct of others.”