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Marine commandant's lawyer: Whistleblower's email a red flag after Navy Yard massacre

Oct. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Robert Hogue, left, and Maj. James Weirick
Robert Hogue, left, and Maj. James Weirick ()
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A senior adviser for the Marine Corps commandant is defending last week’s firing of a whistleblower who accused top brass of wrongdoing, saying a strongly worded email written by Maj. James Weirick triggered safety concerns after the Navy Yard shootings last month.

Weirick, a Marine attorney who filed a complaint to the Defense Department inspector general earlier this year alleging the commandant’s office interfered with legal proceedings related to a war-zone scandal, was removed from his job in late September, and told to seek a mental-health evaluation and surrender his personal firearms.

Some in the Marine Corps legal community see the move as retaliation and an abuse of the legal safeguards afforded to whistleblowers. But Robert Hogue, the top civilian attorney for Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, called Weirick’s missive a red flag in light of the Sept. 16 massacre inside the Washington, D.C., headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command. The mass shooting left 13 dead, including the gunman.

“Like all members of the Navy-Marine Corps team, I am deeply moved and motivated by the recent tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard,” Hogue told Marine Corps Times in a brief written statement issued through a Marine public affairs officer at the Pentagon. “Against the backdrop of that tragedy, I am very concerned for the safety of my clients and staff given the bizarre nature of the communications in this case.”

Weirick’s email was sent Sept. 21 to Peter Delorier, Hogue’s former deputy, who also is named in Weirick’s inspector general complaint. In it, Weirick pleads with Delorier to “come clean” about his role in the alleged miscarriage of justice by Amos’s office. Weirick referred to himself in the third person throughout, and at one point told Delorier that while his superiors might have promised to shelter him from professional repercussions, no one can “offer you protection from Weirick.”

According to Weirick’s attorney, Jane Siegel, Weirick’s access card and computer files were seized, and he’s been barred from returning to his office. He also was questioned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, she said.

Ed Buice, a spokesman for NCIS, said he couldn’t immediately confirm that Weirick had been questioned by the organization, but said he was looking into the matter.

The Navy Yard tragedy provided Weirick’s command with a convenient excuse to take drastic action against him, said Siegel, a retired Marine Corps colonel.

“I don’t believe in coincidences, and I think that’s what’s going on,” she said Tuesday. “It gives them a separate excuse for the public as to why they’re treating him this way.”

Others in the Marine Corps legal community say the action taken against Weirick seems more like reprisal than threat mitigation. Lt. Col. Robert “Butch” Bracknell, a Marine Corps attorney working in Alexandria, Va., said Weirick’s use of the third person in his email to Delorier was nothing more than an idiosyncrasy.

“I’ve known Weirick for about 15 years and he has always referred to himself in the third person. It’s his schtick,” Bracknell said. “It doesn’t mean he’s nuts. It just means he’s Weirick — eclectic, funny, awesome.”

Attorney Guy Womack pointed to the upcoming administrative hearing for Capt. James Clement, who was charged with dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer in connection with the now infamous YouTube video showing four Marine scout snipers urinating on the remains of dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Citing Weirick’s IG complaint and a host of internal documents, Clement’s defense attorneys fought to dismiss the charges against him, accusing the commandant and his advisers of conspiring to ensure severe punishment for those Marines connected video.

The charges against Clement were dismissed, but he still faces the end of his military career pending the outcome of his hearing, which is scheduled for Oct. 15. And once again, Weirick’s complaint is expected to take center stage.

“Obviously the timing couldn't be more suspect,” said Womack, a retired Marine officer who represented one of the snipers prosecuted in the urination scandal. “... Certainly, describing oneself in the third person is unusual, although President Obama has done that on occasion. [But] I don’t really see anything that’s threatening.”

A former Marine Corps prosecutor who’s watched these cases closely said that while he does not condone Weirick’s decision to email Delorier, the extreme actions that followed look like “railroading.”

“The major’s hectoring email, referring to himself in the third person, does little to counter a negative impression,” said Gary Solis, an expert on the laws of war and professor at Georgetown University. “But instant relief? Psych appointments? Turn in your weapons? Presuming no previous warning to cease, those are excessive actions.”

In May, Weirick filed an additional complaint with the Defense Department inspector general alleging members of Amos’ legal staff targeted his supervisor at the time, Col. Jesse Gruter, for refusing to stop the major from addressing his concerns with members of Congress. Later, Weirick said, Hogue and others in the commandant’s office pressured his command to make him stop contacting lawmakers.

A military protective order issued to Weirick last week says that while he is to have no further contact him Amos, Hogue, Delorier and others named in his IG complaint, he is not prohibited from contacting members of Congress or the IG’s office. Siegel said she has forwarded that document, comparable to a civilian restraining order, to the IG for Weirick’s file.

An spokeswoman for the IG’s office, Bridget Serchak, said she cannot provide information on the status of Weirick’s now six-month-old complaint. She also said she is unable to address anything related to alleged reprisal.

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