Army’s top lawyer for sex assault cases relieved of duties over ‘loss of trust and confidence’

Just weeks ahead of the Army’s legislatively-required shift in how it prosecutes major crimes, the Army has relieved the man tapped to lead the all-new office.

According to the Army, they have re-assigned Brig. Gen. Warren L. Wells after a "loss of trust and confidence" in his ability to lead the Army Office of Special Trial Counsel.

The move comes after an email Wells sent in 2013 resurfaced, where he complained about what he called false allegations by victims.

"You and your teams are now the ONLY line of defense against false allegations and sobriety regrets," he wrote to his staff, according to an email obtained by the Associated Press.

An executive order signed in Aug. 2023, changed how some crimes—including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and murder—would be handled within the military justice system. The change would take control outside the chain of command, and put independent prosecutors over the decision-making on filing charges.

Proponents of the change have long argued that members of the military could face retribution for speaking up about sexual assault.

The Defense Department has tracked a steady climb in reports of sexual assault within the military since 2006. Despite the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, assaults continued to climb, and those who work as victim advocates point out that crimes often don’t get reported.

The creation of a new office to oversee sensitive cases was meant to give relief to victims—instead, there are now questions over how an email sent to a number of people wasn’t flagged when Wells was initially vetted for this key role.

"(Wells) is literally the embodiment of why we made this policy shift in the first place," said Josh Connolly, the senior vice president of Protect our Defenders, the group that fought for more than 10 years to change the justice system within the military.

"Getting an independent prosecutor who is actually independent is fundamental to this effort," said Connolly. "The fact they weren’t able to find somebody to do that role, the fact that they dropped the ball on this is really, really disconcerting."

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The Army told FOX 13 that they still plan to have the Army Office of Trial Counsel operational by Dec. 28, 2023 as required by law. However, it will do so with an interim lead special trial counsel.

"Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth relieved Brig. Gen. Warren L. Wells of his duties as the Army’s Lead Special Trial Counsel based on a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead the Army Office of Special Trial Counsel," a statement from Sec. Wormuth’s spokesperson read.

According to that spokesperson, Wormuth made the decision to relieve Wells of his duties the same day the emails surfaced.