Schweitzer defends Walsh, says he discarded Army report

2013-12-30T19:35:00Z 2014-05-30T11:04:15Z Schweitzer defends Walsh, says he discarded Army reportBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
December 30, 2013 7:35 pm  • 

HELENA — As governor, Brian Schweitzer said Monday he threw away the 2010 U.S. Army inspector general’s report concluding that Adj. Gen. and now Lt. Gov. John Walsh had improperly used his position in the Montana National Guard for personal gain.

“I treated it with the respect it deserved,” the former governor said in an interview. “I put it in the round file.

“I might have said I don’t give a damn what the Department of Defense thinks. It would certainly not be the only (federal) agency that I had a run-in with.”

Schweitzer called the inspector general’s report “much ado about nothing” and ignored it.

Schweitzer blew off the investigative report as “a completely partisan end run in the National Guard attempting to embarrass him (Walsh).”

“Whoever it is in the Montana National Guard that’s trying to stir this thing up, they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Schweitzer said. “He was a great adjutant general, a wonderful leader and Montana ought to be proud that he led Montana soldiers to war.”

Walsh is one of three Democrats running for the U.S. Senate in 2014, along with three Republicans.

Schweitzer, who left office in January 2013, is not endorsing anyone in the Democratic Senate primary. Besides picking Walsh for his Cabinet, he tapped one of the other current Democratic Senate candidates, John Bohlinger, to be his lieutenant governor.

Walsh, who disputed the conclusions of the investigative report, remained as adjutant general and director of the Department of Military Affairs under Schweitzer. He was never disciplined.

“There was nothing to make of it, this suggestion that he somehow got some benefit from what he was doing,” Schweitzer said. “He got no benefit whatsoever. He’s passionate about representing the National Guard.”

Schweitzer in September 2008 appointed Walsh as the state’s adjutant general and director of the Department of Military Affairs. Walsh remained in that job until resigning in March 2012 to become the candidate for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket headed by Steve Bullock. They were elected in November 2012 and took office two months later.

In August 2010, the inspector general of the U.S. Army concluded that Walsh had improperly used his position as adjutant general for private gain. It also said he had improperly used government resources and improperly used a non-federal entity.

The investigation followed complaints from some Montana National Guard troops who said Walsh had coerced them to pay dues to join a private group, the National Guard Association of the United States. Walsh was on the board of directors of the national group and was running for – and was later elected – as vice chair-Army of the national group.

The association lobbies on behalf of the National Guard for better equipment, training and benefits.

“He (Walsh) had been in the National Guard for a long time and part of this lobbying group,” Schweitzer said. “It’s a group of officers from all over the country that want to more effectively tell the story of the National Guard. During the course of the last 100 years, the National Guard has been treated as a second-class military. They get leftovers from the last war to prepare their people for the next war.”

Schweitzer said Walsh “had been assured by legal counsel within the Department of Defense that this was wholly appropriate to contact fellow officers.”

A better story, Schweitzer said, might be how Walsh led the effort for Montana’s Yellow Ribbon campaign, which became a model of the national program.

Schweitzer said he started the program after the first National Guard soldier committee suicide during his administration, and Walsh administered it. It involves providing counseling for National Guard soldiers and their families before they are deployed and after they return. Counseling also occurs with families while their soldier is deployed. The counselors include former soldiers who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

The former governor said “Walsh had his fingerprints on the program more than anyone.”

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