Navy Admiral Slotted for Top Role Abruptly Announces Retirement

WASHINGTON — Adm. William F. Moran, who was nominated to be the Navy’s next chief, abruptly announced his retirement in a statement on Sunday, citing an ongoing ethics investigation into his relationship with a subordinate who was “held accountable over allegations of inappropriate behavior.”

Admiral Moran’s decision to decline his appointment to be chief of naval operations and instead retire has sent the Navy scrambling to find a new candidate as the Pentagon operates with officials in acting roles in top jobs and without a confirmed secretary of defense.

Though Admiral Moran did not mention him by name in the statement, two Defense Department officials identified the unnamed subordinate as Cmdr. Chris Servello, a former Navy public affairs officer who was accused of harassing female colleagues at a Christmas party in 2016. The incident was first reported by USA Today in 2017.

Both department officials spoke on the condition of anonymity. Additionally, one said that a Freedom of Information Act request for email exchanges revealed the depth of Admiral Moran’s relationship with Commander Servello over the last two weeks.

Commander Servello, who has since left the Navy, was close to Admiral Moran throughout his career. He served as a public affairs officer for Admiral Moran in 2014, when the senior officer was chief of Naval Personnel.

Commander Servello said their relationship was that of “mentor to mentee” and told The New York Times on Monday that the admiral’s announcement was a “sad day for the Navy.”

In his statement, Admiral Moran said his retirement sought to avoid any “impediment whatsoever to the important service” by Navy personnel and their families. He called it a “painful” decision to step down.

“To be clear, my decision to maintain this relationship was in no way an endorsement or tacit approval of this kind of conduct,” Admiral Moran said, referring to the accusations against Commander Servello.

Commander Servello also served as the public affairs officer for the current chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John M. Richardson.

Admiral Moran’s decision has put Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer in a difficult position of finding a new candidate for the job while keeping Admiral Richardson in the top role likely longer than was originally expected.

In a statement, Mr. Spencer said Admiral Moran’s decision to maintain a relationship with Commander Servello “has caused me to call his judgment into question.”

“Adm. Bill Moran has served this country honorably for decades. I am grateful for the years of dedicated service by him and his family,” Mr. Spencer said.

John Ismay contributed reporting from Jolly Island, New York

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