(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced it received 19-pages of records from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) consisting of an internal report by its Inspector General titled “Report of Investigation of Vice Admiral (VADM) Sean L. Buck, U.S. Navy, Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy,” which concluded that Buck made false statements in discussions with senior Navy officials during disenrollment proceedings against a midshipman for perceived inappropriate tweets.
The internal report, dated September 2022, was uncovered thanks to a Judicial Watch March 2023 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Defense, No. 1:23-cv-00566) filed after the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (“DODIG”) failed to respond to a December 2022 FOIA request for all records related to an investigation conducted by the DODIG, which it publicly referenced in its most recent annual report to Congress. The reference is on page 54 of the Report to Congress. In the report, DODIG informed Congress of the following incident:
The DOD OIG investigated allegations that a Navy vice admiral made false official statements to senior Navy officials on three occasions. We did not substantiate the allegations. We concluded that the vice admiral did not make a false official statement, as defined by Article 107 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, on any of the three occasions. The DOD OIG initiated this investigation based on complaints filed with the DOD Hotline.
The report, just uncovered by Judicial Watch details that following Vice Admiral Buck’s interview with the midshipman at issue (whose name is redacted), Buck made false statements internally to other Navy officials on three separate occasions when he “asserted that [the midshipman] said he would use military force against civilians.” The report also notes that Buck used these false statements to support his recommendation that the midshipman be disenrolled from the Academy and be required to reimburse the Navy $174,753 for his tuition. (The DODIG’s Whistleblower Reprisal Investigations Directorate, which produced the report on Buck, “investigates allegations of whistleblower reprisals made by members of the armed services and employees, contractors and grantees of DOD and the DOD intelligence community.”)
In a November 12, 2020, memo, Buck recommended to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower and Reserve Affairs that the midshipman be disenrolled from the United States Naval Academy after Buck claimed he had lost confidence in the midshipman.
Based on Buck’s recommendation, the Secretary of Navy disenrolled the midshipman from the Naval Academy. However, after the midshipman sued, the Navy ultimately allowed him back into the Academy to complete his remaining credits, “graduate from the USNA, receive a commission as an ensign on May 28, 2021, and enter active duty.” A news report by The Stars and Stripes suggests the midshipman in question may have been Chase Standage.
The report concludes:
We concluded by a preponderance of the evidence that [Vice Admiral] Buck did not make a false official statement, as defined by Article 107 of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] … However, we found that VADM Buck made a statement that was false during both the conference call with [redacted] on February 18, 2021, and the office visit with [redacted] on February 24, 2021. We further found that VADM Buck knew that his statements were false, but we could not determine by a preponderance of the evidence that VADM Buck intended to make those false statements on either occasion to deceive [redacted] or [redacted]. Separately, we concluded that VADM Buck did not make a false official statement to former Secretary Braithwaite.
The IG made “no recommendation” regarding Buck.
“The documents show how Pentagon leaders let a vice admiral – and the head of the US Naval Academy – off the hook for knowingly making false statements to justify his recommendation to end the career of a young midshipman over tweets,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And it is disturbing that it took a federal FOIA lawsuit to uncover how this senior officer made a series of false statements as part of his unusual effort to destroy this midshipman.”