FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — A U.S. Army general charged with sexual misconduct plans to add civilian lawyers to his legal team after expressing concern his military lawyers feared their careers would be harmed by defending him.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair appeared in court Thursday at Fort Bragg for a hearing on pre-trial motions. Sinclair faces court martial in June on charges that include forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery. He has thus far deferred entering a plea.
Military judge Col. James Pohl asked Sinclair on Thursday about an e-mail the general sent to the head of the Army's legal branch suggesting the three lawyers assigned to defend him feared retaliation. At a past hearing, the defense has suggested they may call top Pentagon officials as witnesses in the case, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Ordinario and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the incoming head of U.S. Central Command.
"I had a belief, I was concerned," Sinclair told the judge. He added that he felt his military lawyers would defend him to the utmost of their ability, but that he still wished to add four civilian lawyers from the firm Montgomery McCracken, based in New York and Philadelphia.
On Thursday, Pohl denied an earlier motion from the defense to disqualify prosecutors over privileged emails erroneously sent to them by criminal investigators. The messages included exchanges between Sinclair and his lawyers, his wife and a family friend who is an ordained minister.
Other pre-trial motions are due Friday. The Army has thus far rebuffed public records requests from The Associated Press for copies of all motions filed in the case.
A 27-year Army veteran, Sinclair faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious offenses. It's rare for an Army general to face court-martial. There have been only two cases in recent years.
More commanders have lost their posts over sex. Of the 18 generals and admirals, from one star to four stars, fired in recent years, 10 lost their jobs because of sex-related offenses.
That tally does not include retired Army general David Petraeus, who was forced to resign as CIA director in November after he admitted to an affair with the woman who wrote the biography of his military career.
The investigation of Petraeus also ensnared Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, over thousands of flirty emails he exchanged with a Tampa, Fla., socialite. The Pentagon later cleared Allen of inappropriate conduct, but he announced earlier this week he would retire rather than take command of NATO forces in Europe, as had been scheduled.
At an evidentiary hearing for Sinclair in November, prosecutors presented testimony about his conduct with five women, including officers who served under his direct command. The charges involve activities when he was in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and at installations in the United States.
Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan before being relieved in May during the criminal investigation. He has been on special assignment since then at Fort Bragg.
The female captain at the heart of the case said she carried on a three-year sexual relationship with Sinclair, a married father of two. Adultery is a crime under military law, and the admission could end her career.
She testified at the evidentiary hearing that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair with Sinclair, who she says threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.
The woman said she usually wanted to have sex with the general, though she said that on two occasions he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex, even as she sobbed.
The Associated Press does not publicly identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also testified that they had given the general nude photos at his request.
Sinclair is also accused of possessing alcohol in a war zone and disobeying orders. Maj. Gen. James Huggins, Sinclair's superior officer in Afghanistan, testified he ordered Sinclair to cease contact with the female captain after she reported the affair. Sinclair is alleged to have willfully disobeyed that order by then calling the woman's phone.
Sinclair has not yet spoken publicly about the charges against him. At the pretrial hearing, his defense lawyers conceded the affair with the female captain, while working to paint her as a liar trying to ruin the general's life and military reputation. During the hearings, they characterized her as a manipulative "back-stabber" who blamed others for her mistakes.
The general's wife, Rebecca Sinclair, has stayed away from court but went public with an opinion piece in The Washington Post. In that column, she said she was not condoning her husband's infidelity, but she said that a decade of war had taken a toll on military couples and brought pressure on their marriages.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rebecca Sinclair said her husband called her last spring to tell her about the affair and allegations, and she said they were trying to mend their relationship.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck.