When last reported here, Maryland US District Court Judge Ellen Hollander asked the government’s legal team some very pointed questions during a hearing at the end of October while deferring her decision on the case until mid-December. To refresh your memory:
Midshipman First Class Chase Standage was accused of two conduct charges for posting Twitter tweets from an account that did not associate him with the military and that were arbitrarily deemed to be “conduct unbecoming a midshipman,” an offense under Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Rather than conducting a court-martial under UCMJ, US Naval Academy leadership chose to adjudicate his case via internal administrative processes that resulted in USNA’s pending recommendation to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs [ASN(M&RA)] to separate him from the Navy and require him to reimburse USNA for the costs-to-date of his education.
MIDN Standage promptly filed a lawsuit and a motion for a preliminary injunction in a Maryland district court, and a temporary injunction was granted on 1 October. The basis for his lawsuit was violation of his First Amendment rights, including viewpoint discrimination, and his right to due process under the Fifth Amendment. The government subsequently filed an opposition and motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Standage’s lawyer filed a reply and opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss….
The US Naval Academy Superintendent, VADM Sean Buck, USN, had recommended MIDN Standage’s dismissal from USNA and separation from the Navy. The final decision on that recommendation was the responsibility for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (Gregory Slavonic). MIDN Standage’s lawsuit sought to overturn that decision. Here is the chronology of the case from the late October hearing onward:
22 Dec: Judge Hollander issued her opinion that the case wasn’t ripe for review, meaning, that all actions/decisions/appeals within the Navy chain of command had not been completed. In her opinion, she included a long footnote suggesting a roadmap for remediation options in lieu of separation from the Navy.
30 Dec: Mark Romano, the top legal counsel for ASN(MR&A) Slavonic, called MIDN Standage’s attorney (Jeff McFadden) to report that the decision has been made to retain MIDN Standage in the Navy and to allow him to graduate from USNA and serve his country, with the implication that remediation would be pursued in lieu of dismissal and separation. He explained that the recommendation to separate Standage was “not in the interests of USNA or the Navy.” He further stated that he personally would be preparing the response package and drafting the order for Mr. Slavonic’s review and signature.
6 Jan: The “storming of the Capitol” was a convenient—planned—excuse to avoid any debate on the evidence of massive election fraud during the joint session of Congress before Biden was “certified” as president. The subsequent media feeding frenzy and misrepresentation of the event and its causes initiated a series of actions that turned the Standage decision inside-out.
10 Jan: Riffing off the “riot” before any investigation had been completed, an op-ed in the Capital Gazette appeared that concluded that “Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, and Chase Standage have to go because they’re all liars” (paraphrasing the execrable hit-piece). [Analysis: The Capital Gazette is a mouthpiece for the Naval Academy, and the author is a former communications officer at USNA. Can it be a coincidence that that op-ed attempted to somehow connect MIDN Standage’s tweets to the Capitol Hill break-in? There is a high likelihood that someone in the USNA front office suggested the op-ed as a way to help turn around the pending ASN(M&RA) decision to retain MIDN Standage. That would be of-a-piece with the Democrat-media ongoing full-court press on “getting Trump and his supporters” – especially those like MIDN Standage who don’t bend the knee to the BLM mob.]
13 Jan: Romano called MIDN Standage’s attorney to say that the decision had been reversed, and that MIDN Standage will be separated from the Navy. [Analysis: This was a complete 180-degree reversal from the previous phone call, obviously based on an event that had NOTHING to do with MIDN Standage’s case! An entirely political decision, not on the merits of the case.]
15 Jan: Instead of Mr. Slavonic, Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite himself signed the memorandum order separating Standage, which also directed that his “military service obligation to the government be fulfilled through monetary recoupment ($174,753.00).” Notably, in signing the memo, Braithwaite usurped the authority to separate that had been delegated to the ASN years ago.
21 Jan: The SECNAV memorandum was forwarded to MIDN Standage and his lawyer by Assistant US Attorney Kelly Marzullo, Baltimore, Maryland Area. The memo was dated 15 January, which was 2 days after the ASN(M&RA) lawyer called to say that they changed their minds. [Analysis: The “official Navy” waited until the day after Biden’s inauguration to convey the news to avoid being overruled by the Trump White House. An ENTIRELY craven political decision.]
21 Jan: Upon receipt of the SECNAV memorandum, a third amended complaint was immediately filed by MIDN Standage’s lawyer, as well as a request for a new Temporary Restraining Order. Late in the day, a conference call was convened by Judge Hollander with MIDN Standage’s attorney and AUSA Kelly Marzullo representing the government.
22 Jan: Judge Hollander issued a 14-day restraining order, which can be renewed thereafter if necessary. A briefing schedule on motion for preliminary injunction was provided, with 12 Feb set as the date for the court hearing on MIDN Standage’s motion for injunctive relief. Depending on what happens at that point, the third amended complaint (the lawsuit) will be subsequently litigated.
25 Jan (tomorrow): Standage starts grad school at the University of Maryland (a master’s program in Aerospace Engineering).
Summary and Conclusion. The initial ASN(M&RA) decision at the end of December was to retain MIDN Standage at USNA and in the Navy after remediation. That decision was changed after the staged 6 January Capitol Hill “riot” for obvious political reasons having NOTHING to do with the facts of the case. That the change was an entirely political decision is evinced by the fact that MIDN Standage and his attorney were officially informed of the SECNAV dismissal and separation decision the day after Biden’s inauguration instead of when the memorandum was signed six days before.
The SECNAV memorandum contained these words [emphasis mine]:
[D]espite his previously exemplary record, I concur with your determination that remediation would unlikely be successful.
The Navy has determined that an exemplary 22-year-old midshipman who posted tweets protected by the First Amendment from a Twitter account that did not identify him as a member of the military cannot be remediated but rather must be dismissed from USNA and separated from the Navy. Consider the following comparisons regarding others who were “remediated” and escaped forced separation despite their actions:
- Redstate colleague Mike Ford did a great 3-part series on the latest cheating scandal at the US Military Academy (Part III can be found here). Twenty-four cadets on the Army football team were remediated in place and allowed to participate in the Army-Navy game and Liberty Bowl after cheating on exams in May 2020. These are violations of the West Point honor code which historically were separation offenses, but Army football apparently triumphed over integrity.
- Seven Navy sailors died in the 2017 collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the container ship ACX Chrystal. The Fitzgerald’s tactical action officer was censured for her failure to perform her duties, and a Navy board of inquiry “found no reason to force Combs from the Navy after 11 years of service.” She had faced criminal charges, including negligent dereliction of duty resulting in death and negligent hazarding of a vessel, but those charges were subsequently dropped.
- Among the several hundred naval officers investigated in the multi-year Fat Leonard bribery and corruption scandal, at least a dozen captains and admirals were found culpable and received letters of censure. Only one received a demotion. Some of the other 33+ Navy personnel who were charged also received letters of censure, but no one on active duty was separated from the service.
Thank Heavens that these people didn’t post their political thoughts from anonymous Twitter accounts, or they might have faced separation from the military and substantial “monetary recoupment”! It could not be clearer that the Navy’s Standage decision had everything to do with politics, political ideology, political expediency, viewpoint discrimination, and gross due process violations and nothing to do with the rule of law.
I spell travesty of Navy justice this way: S.T.A.N.D.A.G.E.