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Mont. politician reprimanded by Army after investigation

Jan. 21, 2014 - 08:02PM   |  
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HELENA, MONT. — Lieutenant governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Walsh was formally reprimanded by the Army in 2010 for using his position as Montana’s adjutant general to solicit National Guard troops to join a private association for which he was seeking a leadership role.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli wrote in the reprimand that Walsh’s actions were inconsistent with the conduct expected of senior leaders, according to a copy of the Oct. 1, 2010, memo obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Your failure to adhere to the Army Values causes me to question your ability to lead,” Chiarelli wrote.

The Montana Television Network first reported on Walsh’s reprimand, which was an administrative action that went into Walsh’s personnel file and not considered military punishment.

Walsh is running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that Max Baucus is leaving in 2015. He faces former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and political newcomer Dirk Adams of Wilsall in the Democratic primary. The early Republican front-runner is U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.

Walsh’s campaign said Tuesday he was not immediately available for comment. He previously told Lee Newspapers of Montana that he did not personally benefit from his actions, that he was only trying to help the National Guard and that then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer had no problem with what he did.

The reprimand was in response to the findings of an investigation by the Army Office of Inspector General into a complaint by a Montana National Guard officer. The officer said Walsh used his position as head of Montana’s Department of Military Affairs to pressure subordinates to join the National Guard Association of the United States.

The association is a private organization that lobbies for the National Guard and educates the public through outreach programs. Walsh was seeking to be nominated as vice chairman of the association in 2010 and wrote that his opponent for the position would likely bring up the low membership of Montana National Guard troops in the association as an issue, the inspector general’s report said.

Subordinates who did not join received a follow-up email that said Walsh was concerned they “do not support my priorities” and linked membership in the association to the Montana Guard’s readiness, according to the report.

The Defense Department’s ethics rules prohibit an endorsement of a non-federal entity such as the association by department employees in their official capacities. DOD employees also are prohibited from endorsing membership drives or fundraising for non-federal entities, and they cannot use their position to coerce another person to provide any benefit to themselves.

Walsh said he did not agree with the report’s conclusions, and then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer wrote a response to Chiarelli that said Walsh is an exceptional officer, a team player and that Schweitzer had “the utmost confidence in (Walsh’s) abilities.” Schweitzer called on Walsh to be federally recognized as a brigadier general immediately.

Walsh acknowledged the report actually halted the process of his application for promotion from the federal rank of colonel to general. Walsh resigned in 2012 to become Gov. Steve Bullock’s running mate before the promotion process began again, he said.

Walsh also said he asked Bullock to appoint him to the Senate seat if Baucus resigns early to become the next ambassador to China. Bullock has given no indication of whom he intends to appoint.

Bohlinger told KGVO-AM that if Bullock picks Walsh as the interim appointment, he “would give serious thought to withdrawing from the race.”

“If Walsh is chosen then, you know, I’m running against an incumbent and an incumbent has such an incredible ability to raise money. He has instant name recognition and status, it makes it almost impossible to win,” Bohlinger said.

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