The Navy admiral who'd been approved to become the service's next top leader violated Defense Department policies by using a personal email account for official communications, an investigation found.
Adm. Bill Moran, who served as the Navy's No. 2 officer and was approved by the Senate to become the next chief of naval operations, used a Gmail account to communicate with professional contacts and failed to properly archive the materials, according to a Defense Department investigation.
The probe into the emails, along with questions about one of Moran's professional relationships, led the admiral to suddenly announce his retirement in July, just weeks before he was scheduled to replace now-retired Adm. John Richardson as the Navy's top officer.
"We reviewed 572 pages of e-mails from Admiral Moran's personal Gmail account, dated from December 14, 2016, through June 5, 2019, which included e-mail communications with the Navy commander and 12 other Navy personnel, including military, civilian, and contract employees," the Pentagon's watchdog agency said in a statement released Wednesday.
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Email topics included congressional testimony on Navy readiness, speeches that had not yet been made public, areas where the service should increase its presence, and reactions to media reports.
Moran also corresponded with retired Cmdr. Chris Servello, Richardson's former spokesman who had been accused of sexually harassing women at a Pentagon Christmas party, though no charges were ever filed against him.
While the relationship with Servello was not found to have been inappropriate, Moran's superiors found it displayed poor professional judgment and sent the wrong message about how seriously the Navy took the officer's misconduct.
Moran, who declined to comment on the report, instead pointing to his comments in the investigation, said he agreed with the inspector general's conclusions on the use of his personal email to conduct official business.
"I ... did not appropriately archive this material in a timely manner," Moran said, according to the report, though he added that "at no time was there any exchange of classified material" in those emails.
Moran is not the first military leader to face scrutiny for using personal email on the job. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter used his personal email for government business for about a year. And a Marine Reserve officer has fought for years to remain in uniform after he used personal email to send classified information to his comrades downrange to warn them of an insider attack threat.
The practice has been particularly sticky since Hillary Clinton was found to have sent thousands of emails from a personal server during her time as secretary of State. That prompted a federal investigation, and it was determined that some of the emails had included classified or secret information.
Moran said in the report that he understood the concerns about his continued contact with Servello, who'd been removed from his position. Though he was disappointed in the former officer's conduct, Moran said he still cared for Servello and considered him a member of his family.
"I tried to explain that [the Navy commander] was a colleague and a friend who disappointed me terribly on a personal level, but on a professional level that he has an awful lot to offer to make senior leaders like me think clearly," Moran said. "So, the optics for some will be that ... I don't get it when it comes to sexual harassment policy, don't take it seriously."
He said he relied on Servello for public affairs and media advice rather than the Navy's Office of Information, or CHINFO, because "CHINFO was a mess," Moran said. "No leadership."
The office hadn't been led by a flag officer for nearly a year and a half, he told investigators, and Moran did not believe he'd get "good support" from the office.
That's why he turned to Servello, someone he knew well, because he needed candor, the admiral said.
"When you have people who know you very well and know that I'm open and I'm willing to take their feedback when it's not positive, it makes me sharpen the message," Moran said. "It makes me better. … There's a connection there. So it's the human part of reaching out with those you have [the] greatest amount of confidence."
Servello said he's learned a lot in the four years since serving as Richardson's spokesman, "both professional[ly] and personally."
"I wish the Richardsons and Morans all the best as they transition to civilian life," Servello told Military.com. "I appreciate the opportunity I was given to work with both leaders and look forward to moving on."
The Defense Department inspector general recommended that Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer take "appropriate action regarding ADM Moran."
Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said no additional action was taken against Moran after Spencer's July 7 statement. In that statement, Spencer said Moran's decision to maintain the relationship with Servello had caused him to "call his judgment into question."
It was at that point, Spencer said, that he accepted Moran's request to retire.
"Adm. Bill Moran has served this country honorably for decades," Spencer said at the time. "I am grateful for the years of dedicated service by him and his family."
The IG also recommended that Spencer "provide guidance to Navy personnel reminding them of the DoD policy against using personal email to conduct 'official DoD communications,'" according to the report.
Thomas Modly, undersecretary of the Navy, issued a two-page memo to top Navy and Marine Corps leaders July 12 on the use of personal messaging accounts to conduct official business.
"The Department of the Navy's (DON's) data security and integrity is paramount to our mission to deliver combat ready naval forces," he wrote. "... I, therefore, expect all DON officials and military and civilian employees to comply with existing law and policy and use only official Department of Defense (DoD) messaging accounts, including, but not limited to, official email, social media, or messaging applications to conduct official business."