Retired Gen. Arthur Lichte, the former head of Air Mobility Command, has been reprimanded and stripped of two stars after an investigation found he engaged in sexual misconduct.
The Air Force said in a Wednesday statement that the Office of Special Investigations found Lichte, who retired from the Air Force in 2010, engaged in "inappropriate sexual acts with a subordinate" twice in 2007 while on active duty. At the time, he was assistant vice chief of staff and Air Staff director in the Pentagon. The investigation also found that Lichte had inappropriate sex with the same female officer — who AMC has previously identified as a colonel — in the first half of 2009, while he was running AMC.
USA Today first reported the report's conclusions and Lichte's demotion Wednesday.
Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James issued Lichte a reprimand and ordered an Officer Grade Determination Board to decide which grade he should be reduced to. Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow reviewed the information and on Tuesday concluded that Lichte last served satisfactorily as a major general. The first alleged sexual misconduct took place when he was a lieutenant general. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis withdrew Lichte's certification of satisfactory service on Monday.
In a statement, Lichte's attorney, Larry Youngner, of the law firm Tully Rinckey, called the Air Force's decision wrong and pledged to appeal it.
"My client did not commit a sexual assault and vehemently denies the unsworn allegations made against him regarding consensual events that happened over eight years ago," Youngner said. "Although my client is not proud of what transpired, he cooperated fully and provided statements, under oath, to defend against the allegations that went to an officer grade determination board."
In the Air Force statement, Disbrow said airmen at all levels will be held accountable for their actions.
"The Air Force takes all allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously," Disbrow said. "We expect our leaders to uphold the highest standards of behavior. These standards and rules underpin good order and discipline."
The alleged victim filed a restricted report of sexual assault last July with a sexual assault response coordinator. OSI launched an investigation in August after she changed her report to unrestricted. The Air Force is not identifying the alleged victim.
USA Today said James' letter of reprimand was "stinging." In it, she said Lichte put the officer "in a position in which she could have believed that she had no choice but to engage in these sex acts given your far superior grade, position, and significant ability to affect her career."
"You are hereby reprimanded!" James wrote in the December letter, USA Today reported. "Your conduct is disgraceful and, but for the [five-year] statute of limitations bar to prosecution, would be more appropriately addressed through the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
The heavily-redacted investigation report, released by the Air Force, said that an unnamed person overheard a conversation between Lichte and the subordinate officer last August, the day after the investigation was launched. In that reported conversation, the investigation said Lichte apologized to her and said he "had no idea" she was not interested or willing.
"SUBJECT [Lichte] stated, 'This is a bit of a surprise to me because I never considered sexual assault or anything that you just said,'" the report said. "'If that's how it was to you, I'm very sorry, but I don't understand.' VICTIM told him when it happened, in her mind, she didn't think she had an option to say no due to his position. [Lichte] said if VICTIM really felt she was not a willing partner, then he was surprised because he thought she was. VICTIM said she was not and probably in a state of shock. Looking back, VICTIM wished she could have said no."
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.