WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s pick to lead U.S. Southern Command on Tuesday insisted that his past interactions with a disgraced defense contractor did not amount to a troubling ethical lapse, noting that military officials have cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The comments from Vice Adm. Craig Faller, who would receive a fourth star and lead the combatant command if confirmed, came during harsh questioning before the Senate Armed Services Committee over allegations outlined in a Washington Post report this week.

They focus on a Christmas 2004 reception in Hong Kong where Navy officials — including Faller — were feted with expensive food and drinks while mingling with women in skimpy costumes and prostitutes. Navy records also indicate that the contractor offered other dinners and gifts to Faller in later years.

Defense and Justice Department officials have said Faller did not commit any crimes, but he is among hundreds of naval officers entangled in the case of contractor Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis, who pled guilty to bribery charges three years ago.

In the years since his interactions with Francis, Faller has worked on two separate occasions as a senior aide to now-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. His nomination last month drew praise from Mattis, who lauded his experience and knowledge.

But Faller’s past interactions with Francis drew criticism from several Democrats on the committee. In particular, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the 2004 party raises several “questions of judgement” for his nomination, especially since Faller expressed no remorse about attending the event to the committee.

Faller said the party was cleared through Navy ethics officials and attended by both male and female military personnel.

“There was nothing unprofessional and untoward,” he said.

“Every decision I have made in my career, I have tried to make through the best ethical lens. One of the benchmarks I use is with my wife of 34 years and two grown daughters: if they were present or saw it on video, would they be embarrassed? I can look you in the eye and say I believe I reached that benchmark.”

Several Republicans on the committee agreed, offering strong support for Faller’s nomination. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she planned to vote for him. Sen. Thom Tillis, D-N.C., said revisiting the incident “would be a waste of time here.”

Faller’s confirmation hearing came just days before the expected testimony from a high school classmate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who has accused him of sexual assault more than 30 years ago. The debate has inflamed tensions on Capitol Hill over issues of sexism, misogyny and ethics throughout government.

Committee officials did not say when a panel vote on Faller’s new post could take place. The full chamber will have to vote on his confirmation after that vote, a process that could be stalled if any senators decide to put a hold on his nomination.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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