A Pentagon investigation has concluded that Defense Secretary Ash Carter's former senior military aide used his government credit card at strip clubs or gentlemen's clubs in Rome and Seoul, drank in excess and had "improper interactions" with women, The Associated Press has learned.
The aide, Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who was fired nearly a year ago by Carter, submitted a written rebuttal slamming the investigation. Lewis asserted that the Defense Department's inspector general had amassed an inaccurate and inflammatory case based on innuendo and had failed to "find the truth."
The inspector general's report says Lewis improperly used his credit card, lied to a bank to get charges removed and said he was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, a violation of the code of military justice, according to people familiar with the report. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the report before its release.
In the rebuttal, obtained by the AP, Lewis denied that the bar he went to in Rome was a strip club and denied that he went to a strip or gentleman's club in Seoul, South Korea, in an area of the city that the report calls "Hooker Hill."
Kathie Scarrah, the inspector general's spokeswoman, confirmed that Lewis was investigated for allegations that he "misused his government travel charge card for personal expenses; made false official statements regarding his government travel card misuse; and engaged in other inappropriate behavior." She provided no other details, but said the inspector general substantiated the allegations and recommended the Army "take appropriate action."
The full report has not yet been made public. It was expected to be released Thursday.
Carter issued a statement saying he was briefed on the investigation but would defer comment pending an Army review. More broadly, he said, "I expect the highest possible standards of conduct from the men and women in this department particularly from those serving in the most senior positions. There is no exception."
The report will go to Army leaders who will determine what, if any, punishment is required and at what rank Lewis would be able to retire
"The Army takes allegations of misconduct seriously and demands all senior leaders, regardless of rank, uphold the highest standards of moral character and competence," said Army spokesman Col. Pat Seiber.
Lewis took responsibility for several inappropriate actions, including charging nearly $1,800 on his government credit card at what he called a "dance club" in Rome. In an embarrassing set of circumstances, Lewis said he tried to use his personal debit card at the club, but it didn't work, so he had to walk back to his hotel with a female employee of the club, and wake up a Defense Department staff member to get his government card to pay the bill. He said he paid back the charges when he returned to the U.S.
The report identified the club as Cica Cica Boom, but Lewis said that's not the club he went to. He said he went to a "high-end establishment with a respectable clientele that had a DJ, a bar area and a dance floor where couples were dancing." A photo of Cica Cica Boom shows a sign above the doorway that also advertises lap dances there.
Lewis had shot up the promotional ladder, and his job with Carter stemmed from their close professional relationship. He had served as an aide for Carter when Carter was deputy defense secretary.
In Korea, the report said, Lewis went to a gentleman's club called the Candy Bar. Lewis denied going there as well, but acknowledged being in a commercial area of Seoul. He said that when he returned to Washington and saw two charges on his credit card totally about $1,100, he called the bank to have them removed and the bank agreed.
Investigators presented him with two receipts from the club bearing the name "Candy." Both receipts show only a short pen mark in the signature area, and do not show his written name.
The report says investigators, after getting Lewis' rebuttal, went back and checked their information, and said they stand by their findings.
The report portrays a senior officer who often went out alone on overseas trips, and who sometimes drank in excess. The report also describes a night in Hawaii last November — just days before Lewis was fired — when he went to dinner and later went back to his room with an enlisted service member. The report says she told investigators that Lewis approached her and appeared to want to kiss her, but she stopped him and left.
Lewis said another staff member was in the hotel room for much of the time, and that even when he was alone with the enlisted service member "our discussions remained the type of conversation a command team would engage in." He said he has known the unidentified service member for several years.
The report also describes Lewis sharing a cigar with a female Defense Department staff member during drinks in Malaysia with a large number of other staff and journalists. It says others there said they were uncomfortable with Lewis' actions and said he was sitting too close to the staff member.
The report does not suggest that Lewis had an extramarital affair or that he had sex with any of the women. And Lewis, in his rebuttal, criticizes the report for relying on insinuations and statements from people who may have distorted the facts or didn't actually see what happened.
Officials with knowledge of the matter said the allegations of misconduct, which first surfaced after the November overseas trip with Carter, stunned the secretary and sent shockwaves through the Pentagon.