- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Army Maj. Gen. Larry G. Smith plans to contest a charge of sexual harassment after the Army inspector general's investigation concluded he inappropriately touched Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy during a Pentagon office visit in 1996.

Military sources said he steadfastly maintains his innocence and is thinking of asking the Defense Department inspector general to reinvestigate the case.

The sources said Gen. Smith insists he merely hugged Gen. Kennedy at the end of a friendly meeting to discuss old times.

Gen. Kennedy said the physical contact went further, accusing him of grabbing and kissing her before she told him to back off.

The Army inspector general's report, now in the hands of the Army vice chief of staff, has concluded that something untoward went on during the October 1996 meeting. A former staffer has told investigators that Gen. Kennedy's demeanor changed markedly afterward testimony that helps corroborate her charge.

"He felt very close to her professionally and put his arm around her and gave her a hug," said a military source familiar with the case. "He vehemently denies any inappropriate touching or groping. His intent is to take it on the best way he can."

Gen. Smith's fate is now in the hands of Gen. John Keane, the Army vice chief. He has been reviewing the report and conferring with Army lawyers.

If Gen. Keane approves the report's conclusion, he will likely handle punishment administratively by issuing a reprimand, ending Gen. Smith's career. Gen. Smith then would only have two options: retire or ask the Pentagon inspector general to reinvestigate on the grounds that Army investigators presented information in the wrong light or inaccurately.

Legal sources say the case does not rise to the level of a court-martial charge.

Sources said part of Gen. Smith's argument is that he has a spotless record as a soldier and no past charges of sexual harassment.

There are no witnesses to the incident. Gen. Kennedy's office door was open during the visit. She normally holds discussions at a table that is out of the view of her staff.

Gen. Smith, 55, a Vietnam combat veteran who is married and has children, is said to be "devastated" by Gen. Kennedy's charge.

Gen. Kennedy, a 52-year-old divorcee, did not report the incident at the time. But she filed a complaint last fall, after learning that Gen. Smith was about to become the deputy Army inspector general, in charge of all personnel investigations, including sexual harassment cases.

Gen. Kennedy, who is the Army's highest-ranking female officer and deputy chief of staff for intelligence, believed he was unsuited for that post. But her aim was not to ruin his career, sources said.

The two served together at Fort McPherson, Ga., while assigned to Army Forces Command. They were neighbors on the base. Gen. Smith's wife became friends with Gen. Kennedy.

Gen. Kennedy has ties to prominent Democratic Party financial contributors and has been mentioned as a long-shot candidate for vice president as Al Gore's running mate.

She had been mentioned as a possible candidate for several senior intelligence posts before announcing her retirement for this summer.

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that the Army inspector general had substantiated the charge.

Gen. Smith and Gen. Kennedy have declined to discuss the case publicly. The Army's public affairs office at the Pentagon also has refused comment.

Gen. Smith's career is on hold. He is a special assistant to the commander of Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, Va.

The Army already has had to deal with embarrassing high-profile cases of sexual harassment. Its former top enlisted man challenged charges of sexual misconduct and was acquitted at court-martial of all but an obstruction of justice count.

Retired Gen. David R. Hale, who was the Army's deputy inspector general, pleaded guilty at a court-martial to conducting inappropriate relationships with the wives of three subordinates.

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