Image: Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James Cartwright
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James Cartwright, considered a candidate for the chairman's seat, was investigated and cleared of misconduct involving a young female aide, according to results of a Pentagon inquiry released Wednesday.
NBC News and news services
updated 2/23/2011 10:58:02 PM ET 2011-02-24T03:58:02

The Pentagon Wednesday released a report by the Pentagon's Inspector General which cleared the second-highest ranking general in the military of accusations he had a sexual relation with female military aide, NBC News reported.

While the investigation cleared Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of any improper relationship it did recommend nonjudicial punishment for Cartwright's failure to properly discipline the aide and for maintaining an overly friendly relationship.

After reviewing the evidence however, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus cleared Cartwright of any wrongdoing.

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The Inspector General completed the report a year ago after an anonymous accuser claimed Cartwright acted inappropriately, but it's come to light now because Cartwright is considered a top contender to replace the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, when he retires October 1.

Two incidents involved
The charges revolve primarily around two incidents.

On a trip to Tblisi, Georgia, in 2009, Cartwright, who is 61 and married, was working late in his hotel room when the female aide, who had been drinking, came to the room apparently in distress over family troubles and passed out on the bench at the end of the general's bed.

Instead of ordering his security personnel to remove her, he told them to let her sleep it off. Aides say Cartwright was concerned about her condition and safety.

The suite functioned as Cartwright's office, the door was ajar while the woman was inside and security personnel were nearby.

When she awoke later others took her to her room. The investigation found there was no contact between the two, but questioned Cartwright's judgment.

The second incident occurred in January 2009 at an Alfalfa Club dinner, attended by then-President-elect Obama, in Washington, D.C. While Cartwright dined as one of the guests, the same female aide, again appearing drunk, attempted to enter the hall, then got into an argument with a Secret Service agent.

"The investigation into the anonymous allegations was thorough. He cooperated fully and when it concluded the allegations were not substantiated," Cartwright spokesman Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore said Wednesday. "Gen. Cartwright believes it's important to have a system that allows anonymous complaints to be heard and appropriate for leaders, especially at his level, to be open to this degree of scrutiny."

Obama considering chairmanship nomination
Obama has not announced whom he will nominate to succeed Mullen. Cartwright is Mullen's deputy, and military and other U.S. officials with knowledge of the conversations said Cartwright is the top choice to succeed his boss. Other names that have been mentioned are Navy Adm. James Stavridis and Army Gen. David Petraeus.

The candidate would first be recommended to the White House by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a step expected within weeks. Timing of the release of the inquiry appears tied to the question of whether Cartwright would be picked for chairman, perhaps as a way to clear the air amid rumors of the investigation that spread through the Pentagon. News organizations had filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the material, but the Pentagon released it more widely.

Gates knew of the investigation and its outcome, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.

"To the extent he was involved, it was to ensure that this matter was properly reviewed and adjudicated," Morrell said. "The secretary is satisfied that this has been accomplished and absent any new revelations, the matter has been properly adjudicated and the case is closed."

Obama is aware of the misconduct claim and was not deterred by it, two officials said. White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment on release of the edited inquiry results.

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Some members of Congress were made aware of the allegations and the findings, apparently in preparation for eventual nomination hearings if Cartwright is selected for the chairman's post.

As the nation's No. 2 military official, Cartwright has forged what administration and military officials describe as a better relationship with the Obama White House than Mullen enjoys. The former fighter pilot is known as a keen intellect and savvy bureaucratic insider.

He has prominent critics, however, including military and some administration officials who have complained privately that Cartwright went around normal channels to confer with White House officials during the months-long review of U.S. war policy in Afghanistan in the fall of 2009. Cartwright's key behind-the-scenes role and complaints about it are laid out in journalist Bob Woodward's 2010 account of the strategy review.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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