KEYWORD NOTICE – US Coast Guard boss says she is not trying to hide the branch’s failure to handle sex assault cases

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The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard tried Tuesday to assure skeptical and frustrated U.S. senators that she is not attempting to cover up the branch’s failure to adequately handle cases of sexual assault and harassment at the service academy in Connecticut.

Admiral Linda L. Fagan said she is committed to “transparency and accountability” within the Coast Guard and is trying to cooperate with congressional investigations and provide requested documents while also abiding by the constraints of an ongoing Office of Inspector General investigation and victim privacy concerns.

“This is not a cover-up. I am committed to providing documents in good faith,” she told the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during a 90-minute hearing in Washington. “This is an incredible organization … I am committed to bringing the organization forward and making the culture change necessary.”

Both Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the subcommittee chair, and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the ranking member, expressed frustration with the lack of documents provided to senators so far as well as the heavy redaction of documents that have been provided.

“This is not full transparency,” said Johnson, as he flipped through pages with large sections of text blacked out.

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which is conducting a similar investigation in the Coast Guard, sent a letter on Tuesday to Fagan complaining it has received 8,338 pages of potentially 1.8 million pages it requested nearly a year ago.

“This situation demands unsparing truth-telling,” Blumenthal said. “Following the evidence where it leads and being willing to face that truth, even though it may be embarrassing to friends, colleagues, predecessors and current leadership.”

Tuesday’s hearing came on the heels of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy posting a letter online that accuses the Coast Guard of using her as part of a “coverup” of the Operation Fouled Anchor internal investigation. Conducted from 2014 to 2020 into dozens of cases of sexual harassment and assault at the academy from 1988 to 2006 that were not appropriately investigated by the Coast Guard, the report was not widely disclosed, including to Congress.

Shannon Norenberg said in Sunday night’s statement that she felt “morally and ethically compelled to resign” from her position at the academy, a job she has held for 11 years. She accused the Coast Guard of reneging on a plan to offer the victims included in the Operation Fouled Anchor report with a government form that would enable them to receive sexual trauma services through the Veterans Administration. Entering dozens of assault cases at the academy, she said, “would have been seen by everyone, but especially Congress.”

Norenberg said she also believes the Coast Guard didn’t offer the victims the form because they didn’t want them to have any proof that their cases existed or had ever been investigated.

“We gave them absolutely nothing in writing, and that was deliberate,” she wrote in her letter. “At the time, it did not occur to me that all of this was being done to hide the existence of Operation Fouled Anchor from Congress.”

Norenberg, who said she was initially unaware of the Operation Fouled Anchor investigation and was sent around the country to visit with victims, publicly apologized to them in her letter.

Asked about Norenberg’s comments, Fagan on Tuesday said she had not yet read the letter but was aware of the allegations. Fagan, who praised Norenberg for making “an incredible difference” at the Academy, said she was assured on Monday that Norenberg’s allegations will be part of the Office of Inspector General investigation.

Lawyers representing some of the victims accused Fagan of not providing concrete answers to the senators’ questions.

“We are speaking to Coast Guard Academy sexual assault survivors on a near daily basis. At today’s hearing, they were expecting answers and for the Coast Guard to take accountability,” said Christine Dunn, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP. “Instead, the Commandant gave platitudes with no real substance or plan to give justice to survivors.”

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