Adm. Bill Moran will not lead the Navy after acknowledging he kept in contact with ‘Bad Santa’

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Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran arrives to preside over a ceremony establishing Expeditionary Exploitation Unit ONE, EXU-1, as a stand-alone command onboard Naval Support Facility Indian Head, June 29, 2018. (Photo By: Todd Frantom)

The Navy is in chaos now that the admiral who had been confirmed to lead the service has abruptly announced his retirement for maintaining "a professional relationship" with a former public affairs officer who was investigated for sexually harassing women at a 2016 Christmas party.

Adm. Bill Moran issued a statement saying his decision to decline his appointment as chief of naval operations comes amid, "An open investigation into the nature of some of my personal email correspondence over the past couple of years and for continuing to maintain a professional relationship with a former staff officer, now retired, who had while in uniform been investigated and held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior."

Task & Purpose independently verified that the officer in question is retired Cmdr. Chris Servello, who was belatedly removed as the spokesman for CNO Adm. John Richardson, following the Christmas party, at which he allegedly made unwanted sexual advances toward three female sailors while he was dressed as Santa Claus. The episode has become known as the "Bad Santa" incident.


A Navy official confirmed that Moran had reached out to Servello for advice on public affairs matters. The Navy's secretary only learned about Moran's communications with Servello following Moran's Senate confirmation on May 24, according to the Associated Press.

"To be clear, my decision to maintain this relationship was in no way an endorsement or tacit approval of this kind of conduct," Moran said in his statement. "I understand how toxic it can be to any team when inappropriate behavior goes unrecognized and unchecked. Every sailor is entitled to serve in an environment free of harassment or intimidation."

Richardson decided to punish Servello administratively in April 2017, but Servello stayed on as his spokesman until that August. The Defense Department Inspector General's Office found Richardson could have removed Servello sooner, but the investigation cleared Richardson of misconduct. Servello was never charged with the allegations against him.

USA Today reported on Sunday that Moran's decision to retire came after the newspaper requested emails between him and Servello, prompting calls for an inspector general's investigation.

"Adm. Bill Moran recently brought to my attention that over the past two years he maintained a professional relationship with an individual who was held accountable and counseled for failing to meet the values and standards of the Naval profession," Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in a statement.

"While I admire his faithful service and commitment to the Navy, this decision on his part to maintain that relationship has caused me to call his judgment into question. Therefore, today I accepted Adm. Moran's request to retire."

Moran had been scheduled to replace Richardson on Aug. 1 — little more than three weeks from now. Now Richardson will remain CNO until Navy Secretary Richard Spencer can recommend a new candidate to the acting defense secretary, Spencer said.

Richardson is due to retire in mid-September, so Congress would have to step in to allow him to serve beyond then, if needed, a Navy official told Task & Purpose on Monday. Spencer is expected to recommend his nomination for a new CNO quickly.

In a brief statement, Servello told Task & Purpose he is aware of Moran's decision to retire.

"It's hard not to feel disappointment and disbelief," Servello said. "This is terrible news for the Navy. Beyond that, I have nothing else to add."

Read Adm. Moran and Secretary Spencer's statements below:

Statement by Adm. Bill Moran

I informed the Secretary of the Navy today that I have decided to decline my appointment as the next Chief of Naval Operations.He has expressed his support.

I made this difficult decision based on an open investigation into the nature of some of my personal email correspondence over the past couple of years and for continuing to maintain a professional relationship with a former staff officer, now retired, who had while in uniform been investigated and held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior.

To be clear, my decision to maintain this relationship was in no way an endorsement or tacit approval of this kind of conduct. I understand how toxic it can be to any team when inappropriate behavior goes unrecognized and unchecked. Every Sailor is entitled to serve in an environment free of harassment or intimidation.

As painful as it is to submit my request to retire, I will not be an impediment whatsoever to the important service that you and your families continue to render the nation every day.

I believe in the institution. And I believe I am doing right by it.

Serving in the United States Navy has been a high honor and privilege. For over 38 years, I have drawn so much satisfaction from that service and nothing has made me more proud than to have been a United States Sailor.

I thank President Trump and Secretary Spencer for the opportunity they gave me, and I deeply regret any inconvenience my decision causes them.

Statement by Secretary of the Navy Richard V Spencer

Adm. Bill Moran recently brought to my attention that over the past two years he maintained a professional relationship with an individual who was held accountable and counseled for failing to meet the values and standards of the Naval profession. While I admire his faithful service and commitment to the Navy, this decision on his part to maintain that relationship has caused me to call his judgment into question. Therefore, today I accepted Adm. Moran's request to retire.

The current Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, will remain the CNO. I will make my recommendation for a new CNO candidate to the Acting Secretary of Defense.

I have a strong vision for the Department of the Navy — one that includes trust among sailors, Marines, and civilians and an urgent resolve by all to live up to the nation's high standards for our Navy and Marine Corps. Department leadership must reflect that vision, and there must be no doubt we are wholly committed to ensuring a culture and work environment where every person is treated with dignity and respect and free from hostile behavior of any kind.

Adm. Bill Moran has served this country honorably for decades. I am grateful for the years of dedicated service by him and his family.

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