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Senator Ends Bid to Block Air Force Nominee Over Assaults

Texas Senator John Cornyn said he’s ending his effort to block the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominee for Air Force chief of staff, which began last week because of concerns over the handling of sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Cornyn, a Republican who met privately with General Mark Welsh today, issued a statement saying the chief of staff nominee “demonstrated a genuine resolve to improving Air Force-wide policies to prevent a recurrence of the grossly unacceptable conduct that took place at Lackland.”

The Air Force has been investigating 15 military instructors at Lackland alleged sexual misconduct involving at least 38 victims.

Six of the instructors have been charged with crimes ranging from improper sexual advances to rape. The others are being investigated for allegations of sexual contact, non-physical contact through social media and, in at least two cases, some form of sexual assault.

One instructor, Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 21 for crimes including rape, adultery, obstruction of justice and aggravated sexual assault.

Lackland, one of the military’s busiest training centers, provides basic training to all Air Force enlisted recruits. About 500 instructors train 35,000 cadets annually.

The House Armed Services Committee held a closed-door hearing today with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley about the Lackland scandal.

‘Good Step’

“We expect the Air Force to be open and transparent with the results of its investigations,” said the committee chairman, California Republican Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, and the ranking Democrat, Washington Representative Adam Smith, in a statement. “Today’s briefing is a good step in that direction, but this committee expects to be fully informed as this issue evolves.”

Protect Our Defenders, a victims support group, delivered to the committee today petitions signed by 10,000 supporters demanding an open public hearing on the Lackland case, said spokesman Brian Purchia.

McKeon and Smith defended the decision to keep today’s hearing private, saying, “In sensitive cases such as these, open hearings can jeopardize ongoing prosecutions and investigations.”

Welsh’s nomination was approved July 26 by the Senate Armed Services Committee for a vote by the full Senate. Cornyn had placed a legislative “hold” on Welsh, invoking a prerogative available to any senator.

Welsh’s spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheets, said in an e-mail last week that the nomination “is working through the confirmation process and he will continue to focus on leading U.S. Air Forces in Europe until that process is finished.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Welsh would succeed retiring General Norton Schwartz as chief of staff.

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