Air Force secretary says Texas shooter was a "serious problem" in the Air Force

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says Texas gunman Devin Kelley was "clearly a serious problem" in the Air Force, evident from the fact that he was court-martialed for assaulting his then-wife and small stepson. 

Wilson, in a Tuesday interview with CBSN, would not directly say whether the Air Force suspected Kelley posed a threat to others in his time with the service. Kelley, who joined the Air Force after graduating high school in 2009, was court-martialed in 2012 and convicted for assaulting his then-wife and his stepson. He was confined for a year, and given a bad conduct discharge. On Sunday, Kelley entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and gunned down dozens of worshipers, killing 26 people as young as 18 months old. 

"I've got to be a bit careful about the records I've seen," Wilson told CBSN. 

But Wilson did acknowledge Kelley was "clearly a serious problem in the Air Force," mentioning his assault conviction. 

An office within the Air Force failed to place Kelley's conviction in a federal database, which would have shown up in his background check and likely prevented him from legally purchasing firearms. Asked how the Air Force let that fall through the cracks, Wilson pointed to the review the Pentagon's inspector general is conducting. 

"Well, that's why we have initiated the review of this case and all others like it, is to find out those facts," Wilson told CBSN. 

Wilson said it's "pretty clear that the check list we use was not followed by the local office" in New Mexico, and his fingerprints "should have been" in the database, when they were not. 

The Air Force is under fire for its failure to properly report Kelley's assault conviction, with members of Congress and the public questioning how Kelley's conviction went unnoticed in federal records, and whether such reporting failures are systemic. On Tuesday, an exasperated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, wondered aloud how Kelley slipped through the cracks of the system.

"This speaks to making sure we actually enforce our laws that we have on the books," Ryan said.

On the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Sen, Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said the Air Force's failure was indirectly, if not directly, responsible for allowing Kelley to obtain firearms. 

"The Air Force's lapse is shocking and inexcusable," Blumenthal said. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.