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Army Attempting to Reconcile Accounts in Harassment Case

By Paul Richter
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Army investigators are trying to reconcile conflicting accounts of whether a female general at the center of a high-profile sex harassment case confronted a male peer when he allegedly groped her in her Pentagon office four years ago, officials said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, the Army’s highest-ranking woman, has told authorities that she tried to settle the matter with Maj. Gen. Larry Smith when he allegedly touched her during an October 1996 meeting.

Smith, however, maintains there was no such discussion, according to officials.

The conflict is another signal that defense officials may find it difficult to find corroborated accounts and clear-cut answers to a case that has roiled the Army since it came to light on March 30.

While sexual harassment cases often involve contradictory “he said-she said” testimony, the lack of supporting evidence in this instance could make it difficult to deal with allegations that have acquired enormous political sensitivity.

Kennedy, 52, the Army’s top intelligence officer, has been a symbol of the Army’s new opportunities for women. Smith, 55, is a decorated veteran with three combat tours in Vietnam and was nominated last August to be the Army’s deputy inspector general.

Both Kennedy and Smith repeatedly have refused to comment on the allegations.

Army officials, too, have declined all comment, citing concerns about privacy and the integrity of the investigation.

In another indication of the difficulties facing investigators, officials said that, contrary to some earlier accounts by officials, Kennedy did not alert any superior to the alleged incident in 1996 after it allegedly happened. Some officials previously had said that she had made such a report informally to at least one officer in her chain of command.

A report to her superiors in 1996 would have added to her credibility when she came forward last September to argue that Smith, while perhaps a good candidate for another post, was poorly suited to be deputy inspector general.

Inspectors general oversee investigations into all sorts of alleged misconduct, including sexual harassment, and historically have been chosen from officers whose integrity is above challenge.