WASHINGTON — The governor of Utah on Thursday put the head of the state’s National Guard on paid leave after a two-year Pentagon investigation concluded that Maj. Gen. Michael Turley had had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate soldier, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Turley, as recently as last week, had sought the spotlight as the investigation neared completion. He greeted President Joe Biden with a hearty handshake at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base on Aug. 9. In February, he was the featured guest of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, at Biden’s State of the Union address.
Romney was unaware that Turley had been the target of a long-running investigation, according to his office. Active-duty senior officers under investigation typically keep a low profile. It’s not clear who, if anybody, had vetted Turley before he met Biden.
Revelations about Turley follow USA TODAY’s report last week that National Guard’s top officer for personnel matters, Maj. Gen. Eric Little, had been fired after the Army inspector general found that Little had presided over an office with a toxic atmosphere toward women. The U.S. officials familiar with Turley’s investigation were not authorized to talk about it.
The Pentagon has struggled and failed to protect women in the ranks from sexual harassment and assault for years. The crime of unwanted sexual contact in the ranks peaked in 2021. Sex crimes against women have soared, particularly in the National Guard.
Turley was put on paid adminstrative leave, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in statement. Cox made the decision based on information “conveyed” by the Army inspector general.
Cynthia Smith, an Army spokesperson, said the inspector general had substantiated an allegation against Turley.
Turley’s case appears to have been poorly handled, said Don Christensen, the former top prosecutor for the Air Force and a retired colonel. Investigators took too long, and Turley had no business greeting the president while under investigation, Christensen said.
“It is hard to justify taking two years to investigate allegations of adultery and fraternization,” Christensen said. “These are are not complex allegations, and there is no excuse for keeping a general officer in a leadership position with these charges hanging over his head. It erodes confidence in command and fuels the belief there is a two tiered justice system in the military. Sadly, the Guard seems particularly inept at holding senior officers accountable in a timely manner.”