Breaking the chain: Sen. Gillibrand’s mission to change military policy on sexual assault

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

The Fine Print

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is on a mission to change how the military prosecutes sexual assaults. She points to one statistic to explain why: 60 percent of those who reported sexual assaults last year were retaliated against by their superiors.

“The victims tell us over and over again that they don't trust the chain of command,” Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told “The Fine Print.”

Gillibrand is calling for removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command, so decisions on whether to try such cases would be made by military prosecutors, not commanders.

“Some of our commanders are just not maintaining a command climate that is either preventing these rapes from happening, or at least a climate where a victim can come forward and then certainly not protecting the victims once they do come forward," she said. "And that has to change."

But Gillibrand is waging an uphill battle in her effort to revise military policy. The Pentagon strongly opposes Gillibrand’s proposal, as do some in the Senate.

“What they say is exactly what they said when we were fighting Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal. … You keep hearing, ‘We can't possibly do this because it will undermine good order and discipline,’” Gillibrand said of the Pentagon’s stance. “I think that's just a reaction; I don't think it's the truth.”

A competing proposal – and one that has the backing of the Pentagon – comes from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who wants to remove the commanders’ ability to overturn jury verdicts, while keeping decision-making within the chain of command.

Though Gillibrand and McCaskill are on opposing sides of this particular issue, Gillibrand said that “friendships” among women senators have made a positive difference on Capitol Hill.

“Women are often very good consensus builders," Gillibrand said, "and I think they can break through the logjams in Congress, leave the partisan politics aside and find common ground."

Gillibrand also made no secret that she wants Hillary Clinton to make a second run for the White House in 2016.

“I think she would be an incredible president,” she said. “I think she has really elevated her profile as secretary of state, and I think she's the most qualified in the country to be the next president.”

To hear more about Gillibrand’s mission to change the military’s policy on sexual assault, as well as her memories of an old roommate and current television star Connie Britton, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Freda Kahen Kashi, Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Brian Haefeli and Shari Thomas contributed to this episode.