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AP Interview: Navy’s top admiral discusses war college probe

FILE - This undated file image provided by the U.S. Navy shows Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. On Monday, June 10, 2019, the Navy said Harley has been reassigned pending the outcome of an inspector general investigation. The administrative reassignment comes days after The Associated Press reported on the investigation amid allegations that he spent excessively, abused his hiring authority and otherwise behaved inappropriately. (U.S. Navy via AP, File)

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — The Navy’s top admiral said Wednesday that he felt he had enough information to warrant removing the president of the Naval War College from his post this week, days after The Associated Press reported on the investigation at the college and more than a year after the initial complaint was filed.

The AP reported last week that the college president, Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, was under investigation for allegedly spending excessively, abusing his hiring authority and otherwise behaving inappropriately, including keeping a margarita machine in his office. Harley was removed from his post Monday.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told the AP in an interview that he received reports from investigators around the same time the article was published.

“Their investigation is not complete,” he said. “But there was just enough actionable information at that point that I made the decision that I did.”

A small group of longtime college employees filed an anonymous complaint about Harley in April 2018 with the Navy’s office of the inspector general. The group contacted the inspector general again in January with additional allegations of Harley flouting Navy rules and norms.

Inspector general investigations, across the Defense Department, routinely take months or more than a year.

Harley announced his departure to campus in an email. He wrote that he was stepping down due to “distractions caused by the unfounded AP article.”

Richardson called the AP report “responsible and balanced.” He was at the college in Newport to speak to students about leadership.

The college on Monday postponed a strategy forum that was due to start Tuesday and had been expected to draw high-ranking officials, including Richardson, along with hundreds of guests. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is still scheduled to speak Friday at the graduation ceremony for the elite school, which grooms future admirals and generals.

Postponing the forum was a big decision, Richardson said, but it was very disruptive for the college leadership to change in the way that it did. It would have been a lot to ask of the college to continue with the forum, he added.

Provost Lewis M. Duncan has temporarily assumed the president’s duties.

Emails obtained by the AP show the college has struggled to make payroll under Harley’s leadership and spent about $725,000 annually on raises while facing an annual shortfall of $5 million or more.

Harley told the AP the college was under fiscal strain because the Navy hasn’t fully funded new missions.

Richardson said Wednesday that as a rule, the Navy isn’t going to direct anyone to take on a mission without ensuring they have the resources to do it.

Harley declined last week to answer a series of questions about the allegations, including his use of a margarita machine. He downplayed the complaints in a campuswide email, saying that they were from “a few individuals” and that all his decisions were subject to legal review and within his authority.

Richardson said that he could not say exactly when the investigation would finish, but that he recognizes it has been going on for a while and it “would be good to bring this to closure.” He is aware, he said, of only one open investigation involving the war college.

The war college is doing an important mission and must remain “very sound,” Richardson said.

“We’ll come through this,” he said. “The college will continue to be a strong and vibrant institution of learning, focused on those things that the Navy needs to educate its leaders on. And in the end, we’ll be stronger than we are right now.”

Richardson hopes to pick a new president for the college before his own tour ends in six weeks.

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Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report from Providence, Rhode Island. McDermott can be reached at https://twitter.com/JenMcDermottAP . Smith can be reached at: https://twitter.com/MRSmithAP

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