The Army’s head sexual assault prosecutor has been relieved of his duties over a 2013 email in which he appeared to express doubt over sexual assault claims and downplayed the seriousness of assault allegations.
Brig. Gen. Warren Wells was relieved on Friday due to “a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead,” according to a statement from Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth’s spokesperson, Col. Randee Farrell.
“Secretary Wormuth made the decision after becoming aware of a 2013 e-mail that then-LTC Wells sent, which negatively characterized developments in sexual assault response at the time and was dismissive of the principle of civilian control of the military exercised by both the Executive Branch and Congress,” Farrell said.
In the email, obtained by CNN, Wells shared a news article with his subordinates regarding the relief of the US Forces Japan commander for failing to investigate a sexual assault allegation.
“Expect no commander to be able to make objective decisions involving [sexual assault] allegations as long [as] Congress and our political masters are dancing by the fire of misleading statistics and one-sided, repetitive misinformation by those with an agenda,” the email reads. “Hopefully a soldier will be able to get a fair trial. You and your teams are now the ONLY line of defense against false allegations and sobriety regret. You literally are the personal defenders of those no one will now defend, even when all signs indicate innocence.”
In a statement to CNN on Tuesday, Wells confirmed that he sent the email and said his “comments were inappropriate in my description of policy makers’ concern about sexual assault.”
“My intent was to reinforce that defense counsel were a critical protection for Soldiers accused of wrongdoing. I do not want my comments to divert attention from the excellent work being done by the new Office of Special Trial Counsel to prosecute special victim crimes and care for victims,” he continued.
Wells’ relief was first reported by the Associated Press.
Wells was nominated by Wormuth and confirmed by Congress in December 2022 to be the service’s first lead special trial counsel. In the position, Wells reported directly to Wormuth. The office was expected to be fully operational by this month; Farrell said the Army will “meet its statutory requirements” to have the office “fully operational by Dec. 28, 2023.”
The Office of the Special Trial Counsel was established to have “exclusive authority to prosecute the following offenses: murder, manslaughter, rape and sexual assault, rape of a child, sexual assault of a child, other sexual misconduct, kidnapping, domestic violence, stalking, retaliation, child pornography and wrongful broadcast,” an Army release said last year. The creation of such offices in each service was directed by the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
In the 2022 Army release, Wormuth described Wells as “the experienced leader the Army needs to lead the Office of Special Trial Counsel and ensure its independent oversight of the Army’s most complex cases.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the new offices just last weekend, saying that by the end of the month, “independent military prosecutors will tackle cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and other serious crimes.”
“We are one team, and we don’t have one single teammate to spare,” Austin said at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “And so we will not tolerate sexual assault or sexual harassment in the US military.”
Wormuth has designated a replacement for Wells, Army Col. Robert Rodrigues, as the acting lead special trial counsel. Wells has been reassigned within the Army staff, Farrell said.
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