David Larter, Navy Times
21 July 2015
Pentagon investigators say President Obama's nominee to become the Navy's next top officer did not break the law when he encouraged a special interest group to seek congressional support for a multibillion-dollar weapons program, Navy Times has learned.
The Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, had accused Adm. John Richardson of violating anti-lobbying laws with his public remarks last fall about the $80 billion Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program. Richardson is pending Senate confirmation to become the next chief of naval operations. Obama nominated him for the post in June.
"The Department of Defense Inspector General Investigations of Senior Officials Directorate investigated the allegation and did not substantiate the allegation," wrote Brad Carson, the Pentagon's acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in an undated letter to Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The allegations stem from comments Richardson made in October at the Naval Submarine League's annual meeting. Richardson told the audience that, despite momentum for funding the Ohio replacement program, he foresaw the potential for failure and that they could help by contacting their elected representatives.
Another senior Navy officer in attendance at the meeting, Rear Adm. Joe Tofalo, spoke after Richardson. He told the audience that anyone with questions about how to speak to Congress was welcome to call his office for guidance. Tofalo, currently the director of undersea warfare, also was cleared of wrongdoing, according to a Navy official with knowledge of the report.
The Navy's chief spokesperson, Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus trusts Richardson and stands by his nomination to become the next CNO.
Danielle Brian, who heads the Project on Government Oversight, wrote in June that the comments by Tofalo and Richardson violated the 1913 Anti-Lobbying Act that "prohibits the use of taxpayer funds by federal agencies to conduct grassroots lobbying efforts to pressure Congress to support 'any legislation or appropriation by Congress.'"
"Taken together, these remarks seem to indicate a troubling coordinated campaign by Navy leadership to engage in grassroots lobbying to secure support for the Ohio Replacement Program," Brian said in a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.
Experts who evaluated the allegations for Navy Times called the admirals' comments objectionable but not a clear violation of the law. David Sheldon, a prominent Washington attorney who handles military cases, said Richardson and Tofalo "entered a gray area, ... but I do not think it was specific enough to be categorized as indirect lobbying, such as suggesting an individual lobby a particular senator or congressman."