WASHINGTON -- Navy Secretary John H. Dalton has asked for the removal of the Navy's top officer, Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, for failing to show proper leadership at a convention of naval aviators in Las Vegas where scores of women were assaulted, Pentagon officials said last night.
In a sweeping indictment of senior Navy leadership, Mr. Dalton has also notified Defense Secretary Les Aspin that he will seek disciplinary action against 12 other admirals and Marine generals who attended the 1991 Tailhook Association convention, damaging if not effectively ending their naval careers.
Mr. Dalton needs the approval of President Clinton to remove Admiral Kelso as chief of naval operations, a presidentially appointed post. But it seemed extremely unlikely that Mr. Clinton would overrule the Navy secretary's recommendation, first reported last night by CBS News, especially after it had been made public.
Mr. Aspin, Admiral Kelso and Mr. Dalton could not be reached for comment last night.
A Pentagon report in April accused 140 fliers of indecent exposure, assault and lying under oath. No one has linked any of the assaults to the 35 admirals and Marine Corps generals who attended the convention, but the senior officers have been criticized for failing to curb the aviators' rowdy, boozy behavior.
Admiral Kelso consistently denied he ever knew about the mayhem going on. While not directly culpable, his ignorance cast him as a distant commander unaware of troubles.
The Tailhook scandal has haunted the Navy ever since the first accusations of sexual abuse began to surface in 1991. The scandal has already led to the resignation of a Navy secretary and the forced retirement of two admirals who led the initial Navy investigation. It has led the Navy to mount a major effort to educate its ranks about sexual harassment.
More than 40 of the officers named in the April report have been fined or disciplined, and 11 others await court-martial, military grand juries or special fact-finding commissions.
But Mr. Dalton, a 1964 Naval Academy graduate, personally reviewed the investigative files on all the 33 Navy admirals and two Marine Corps generals who attended the Tailhook convention at the Las Vegas Hilton, interviewing about half of the officers.
Mr. Dalton conducted his inquiry under extraordinarily tight security, including only the Navy's top lawyer, Steven S. Honigman, and a few close aides, to help with the review.
Nonetheless, rumors have circulated for several days that a purge of the Navy's senior aviators was imminent.
Pentagon officials last night did not identify the dozen generals and admirals included in Mr. Dalton's recommendation to Mr. Aspin. Since the Tailhook convention, held Sept. 4 to Sept. 7, 1991, five of the 30 Navy admirals who attended have retired. It was unclear last night whether any of those officers were among those Mr. Dalton singled out for punishment, and, if so, if the Navy would seek to demote them after retirement.