Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., questioned Air Force leaders in a Senate hearing Tuesday about the handling of sexual assault cases in the military.
The hearing comes after the arrest of Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski on charges of sexual battery for an attack on a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Va.
“He's been removed from his position pending the outcome of this investigation,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said at a press conference Tuesday at the Pentagon. “We’re all outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations.”
Krusinski was in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, a program which aims to eliminate incidents of sexual assault in the Air Force.
“You have got a wealth of people in the Air Force who understand what this job has to be, and if the allegations in this case are true, this was not someone who understood what his job was about,” McCaskill said. “I will be watching very closely who is selected to replace him because I think this will be one of those times you can send a message.”
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Mark Welsh participated in the hearing. McCaskill asked about Krusinki’s performance record and qualifications.
“Clearly the accusation is that he was drunk and sexually attacked a complete stranger in a parking lot,” McCaskill said. “It is hard for me to believe someone would be accused of that behavior by a complete stranger and not have anything in their file that would indicate a problem in that regard.”
Krusinski’s officer record is “very good” and his current supervisor had no concerns, Welsh said.
“There is no indication in his professional record of performance or in his current workplace that there is any type of a problem like this,” Welsh said.
Krusinki’s case arises amidst calls for a cultural change in the military in response to increasing sexual assault incidents. In Fiscal Year 2012, there were a total of 3,374 reports of sexual assault involving military personnel, an increase from the 3,192 reports received in Fiscal Year 2011, according to a Department of Defense report.
McCaskill, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has questioned the military’s responses to sexual assault cases on several occasions. In a Senate hearing on March 5, McCaskill questioned military leaders about Lt. General Craig Franklin’s decision to overturn a jury verdict in a sexual assault case in Aviano Air Base in Italy.
She later introduced legislation to modify article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which currently states that a convening authority has sole discretion to lessen or suspend the sentence of a court martial. McCaskill’s legislation would alter the convening authority’s power and require written justification for any modification to a jury verdict.
“We need to have something other than the arbitrary decision of one general without any other supervising authority, any other procedure that is necessary to actually overturn the very difficult decision that the jury came to,” McCaskilll said.