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Army secretary fires top prosecutor over 2013 email questioning sexual assault claims

The head of the Army's new independent office responsible for prosecuting major crimes, including sexual assault, was removed on Friday, Dec. 1, after a 2013 email surfaced in which he said, "the sexual assault ridiculousness continues."

After becoming aware of the 2013 email, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth removed Brigadier General Warren Wells, "based on a loss of trust and confidence," according to an Army spokesperson. 

Wells made the comment in an email, obtained by CBS News, in which he referred to a commander being removed for allegedly failing to investigate sexual assault allegations. "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," he wrote.

The email went on to say, "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." 

Brigadier General Warren Wells
Brigadier General Warren Wells U.S. Army Multimedia and Visual Information Division

CBS News has learned that email was flagged to the Army Inspector General nearly a year ago  by Barbara Snow, who worked under Wells as an Army defense attorney, and accused him of gender discrimination as well as emotional and psychological abuse.  

The email resurfaced after Snow provided documentation to a defense secretary advisory committee. 

Speaking publicly for the first time at a public meeting held by the committee on Wednesday, Snow said she tried to share this information with the Army Inspector General, but her inquiry was administratively closed in August, according to a letter from the Army's inspector general's investigation division reviewed by CBS News. 

"I have provided a detailed chronology of my interactions with Brigadier General Wells to the Army IG's office. Among the many documents I provided is the cataloging of trauma I sustained because of emotional and psychological abuse," Snow said before the committee. 

Last year, Wells was  confirmed by Congress to serve as the Army's top lawyer in charge of the branch's newly established Office of Special Trial Counsel. The office has been touted by officials as a key to addressing criticism of unlawful command influence on whether a case moves forward. The office, which is scheduled to begin work later this month, places the prosecution decisions on major crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault, into the hands of independent prosecutors. 

In a statement provided to CBS News, Wells said: "In an email I sent 10 years ago as a Regional Defense Counsel to my Senior Defense Counsel, my comments were inappropriate in my description of policy makers' concern about sexual assault.  My intent was to reinforce that defense counsel are a critical protection for Soldiers accused of wrongdoing, especially when there is outside pressure to convict.  I do not want my comments from that time 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." 

His dismissal was first reported by the Associated Press. 

Former Army attorneys are split on Wormuth's response. 

"As head of the Army's new independent prosecutorial office, Secretary Wormuth acted swiftly to safeguard the position of Army chief prosecutor and the office over which the chief presides. In doing so, she reinforced that there is neither anything 'ridiculous' nor 'misleading' about sexual assault allegations," says Meghan Tokash, former Army special victims prosecutor.

Robert Capovilla, a former Army trial defense attorney, disagreed that the email was concerning enough to result in Wells' firing, asking, "What message does this send to Army defense trial services?"

Snow, now a criminal defense attorney in Colorado, urged the committee to ensure the proper vetting of the remaining lead special trial counsel throughout the military.

"It is a foolish errand to remove one and assume there isn't a larger issue that needs to be addressed with others," she said.

Tokash, who is a member of the advisory committee and was a commissioner on the 2021 independent review commission on sexual assault in the military, agreed with Snow. 

"The lack of transparency by the military on the process by which Wells was selected is remarkable," she said in a statement. "The Service Secretaries must assure both Servicemembers and the public that the right people are being chosen to lead the offices that investigate and prosecute special victim crimes. Rebuilding broken trust is critical in this moment."

An Army spokesperson said that Wormuth has designated an acting lead special trial counsel in the interim, and that the Office of Special Trial Counsel is still on schedule to meet its statutory obligations to be fully operational by the end of the month. 

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