Vice Adm. Craig Faller, a top aide to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the nominee to head U.S. Southern Command, was grilled Tuesday on his attendance at a Christmas party where prostitutes allegedly were provided by the Navy bribery scandal figure known as "Fat Leonard."
At the nomination hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, told Faller that his attendance at the expensive 2004 Hong Kong dinner party hosted by Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis featuring scantily clad women "doesn't pass the smell test."
Faller, the top military aide to Mattis, responded that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Justice Department and Navy ethics officials.
At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Warren cited a Washington Post report, based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which said that "attractive young women dressed as 'Santa's little helpers' " were at the dinner.
"You were allegedly offered a prostitute," Warren told Faller. He replied that there was "nothing unprofessional or untoward that I witnessed at the dinner. The ethics counselor actually attended the dinner."
Warren asked, "There was nothing about the dinner that set off any alarm bells in your mind?"
Faller, who was commander of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser Shiloh at the time of the party, replied, "Senator, it did not."
Warren said being head of Southern Command, the combatant command for Latin America and the Caribbean, requires good judgment, and "it seems to me you didn't display good judgment at the time" in associating with Francis, the central figure in what is believed to be the worst corruption scandal in Navy history.
"It doesn't sound like you see anything wrong with the decision you made back then [to attend the party] at which prostitutes and women in scantily clad outfits were expected to provide entertainment," she said.
"Every decision I have made in my career, I have tried to make through the best ethical lens," Faller said. "One of the benchmarks I use is with my wife of 34 years and two grown daughters. If they were present or saw it on video, would they be embarrassed? I can look you in the eye and say I believe I reached that benchmark."
Ernst said she is glad to live in a nation where "our individuals are not tried by media personalities" and "the media doesn't control our justice system."
She asked Faller, "Is it correct that you were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense?"
He replied, "Senator, that is correct."
Ernst asked whether he would foster a "climate of dignity and respect" for the women in his command.
"I will, Senator," Faller said.
Faller's questioning on parties and prostitutes comes at a time when official Washington is consumed by the upcoming hearing at which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will defend himself against allegations of youthful sexual assaults against women.
Francis has pleaded guilty to running a "pay-to-play" racket in which he plied Navy officers with gifts, parties, expensive hotel suites and prostitutes in return for favoritism in the awarding of contracts for the resupply of Navy ships in Asia over two decades.
In August, three more retired Navy officers were indicted for their dealings with Francis or his firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, bringing the total number of defendants facing federal criminal charges in the "Fat Leonard" scandal to 32.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.