Two Senators, Two Different Lessons from a General's Sexual Assault Case

"If it had not been for the commander, that case would have been over," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. "If it had not been for the commander, that case would have been over," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill have been at war over how the military should handle sexual assault since last year. Both commented Thursday on the recently resolved case against Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, but his example doesn't bolster either of their positions about reform.

Sinclair was sentenced in March to a $20,000 fine for engaging in an adulterous relationship with his accuser and abusing a government credit card. He was originally charged with sexual assault, and his case played out under a microscope while Gillibrand and McCaskill debated reform in Congress. Because a judge ruled that Sinclair's court-martial was unduly influenced by the Pentagon, Sinclair was allowed to take a plea bargain that involved dropping the sexual assault charges. Gillibrand calls this justice not served. McCaskill sees the bright side.

In an interview with USA Today published Thursday, Gillibrand sighs:

It's infuriating, because you don't see justice being done. You see a system that's not working for anybody. ... If [Sinclair] had received a conviction, he would have had jail time. That certainly would have made me feel a lot better, if he had gone to jail.

Gillibrand wants to take sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command. Her bill that would have accomplished that failed by five votes in the Senate earlier this year.

McCaskill maintains that the chain of command is necessary to get criminals convicted, even though Sinclair was not convicted of sexual assault. In a meeting with Army officials Thursday, she explained:

If it had not been for the commander, that case would have been over. ... As much as people were outraged about the sentence, I want to make very clear that this was not an example where it should be some kind of mark on the side of a ledger that we should be doing away with command involvement in cases. Just the opposite.

Unfortunately for McCaskill and Gillibrand, the Sinclair case doesn't really speak to either of their positions. The person who unwittingly stopped the court proceedings was not the accuser's commander, but her special victims advocate. That advocate, Captain Cassie L. Fowler, urged the prosecution in an email not to offer Sinclair a plea bargain, which the judge found to be undue influence.

Both McCaskill and Gillibrand support the newly instated Special Victims Counsel program, which gives victims of sexual assault an advocate during the court-martial process. McCaskill said today that Fowler did nothing wrong by sending that email — she was doing the job she was called to do. By all accounts, the SVC program has helped other victims. 

So the senators can't blame Fowler, and really, they can't blame or praise the chain of command in this instance, either. Sinclair's case became a lightning rod during chain-of-command debates in Congress, but the fact that he got a slap on the wrist wasn't the fault of commanders. The prosecution was also not particularly helped by the victim's commanders.

If anything, Gillibrand and McCaskill could blame the judge for Sinclair's light sentencing, but there's not much they can do with that in terms of reform. Chain-of-command is the debate, and Sinclair's case is the most high-profile one to date. It just doesn't make much sense to talk about them in the same breath anymore. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.