POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Questions raised about Gov. Cox’s knowledge of investigation into Maj. Gen. Michael Turley

Aug 30, 2023, 6:59 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2023, 8:55 am

SALT LAKE CITY — An Army Inspector General’s investigation into the now-former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, stretched on for two years before Utah Gov. Spencer Cox placed Turley on leave nearly two weeks ago.

Documents reviewed by KSL show that the investigation started in 2021 after an anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint alleging Turley had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate enlisted soldier.

KSL requested records about the allegations from the governor’s office a year ago, only to be told the governor’s office could not find any such records.

The timeline raises questions about when Cox first learned of the whistleblower complaint, and why the governor did not remove Turley from command until two weeks ago.

The Utah National Guard announced on Aug. 17 that Cox had placed Turley on paid leave. The announcement came a day after the National Guard received notification from the U.S. Army Inspector General it had concluded an investigation into Turley.

In a news release, the Utah National Guard said neither the governor’s office nor the Utah National Guard had received a report of the Army Inspector General’s findings.

The substance of the whistleblower complaint centered on allegations Turley engaged in a multi-year extramarital relationship with an enlisted soldier. This relationship, the complaint alleged, continued even after Turley became adjutant general of the Utah National Guard in November 2019.

KSL first learned of the whistleblower complaint in August 2022. Exactly one year ago, on Aug. 30, 2022, KSL submitted a public records request to the Utah Governor’s Office under the state’s open records law.

The request sought “any communication between Governor Spencer Cox or members of the Governor’s staff with or about Utah National Guard Adjutant General Michael Turley or members of Turley’s staff, regarding a complaint of sexual misconduct against Turley, between August 2021 and August 30, 2022.”

KSL also asked for any communication between Cox or his staff with the Department of the Army Inspector General about Turley during the same window of time.

In a formal response dated Sept. 7, 2022, the governor’s office reported it “did not find records responsive to the request.”

A week later, on Sept. 13, 2022, KSL submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of the Army Office of the Inspector General. The FOIA request asked for “any documents received by the Army Inspector General regarding allegations of sexual misconduct against Utah National Guard Adjutant General Michael Turley.”

Retired Air Force Colonel, Don Christensen in an office

“You don’t have to wait for the investigation to be done to say ‘we’re don’t have to keep you in that leadership position’,” said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force Colonel in an interview with KSL. (KSL TV)

A two-year investigation

On April 7, 2023, the Department of the Army notified KSL it would not provide any response to the FOIA request until at least September 2023.

Unanswered questions

KSL was unable to publicly report on the existence of the whistleblower complaint against Turley, or the investigation it triggered, in 2022 because it could not independently corroborate them.

However, the timeline established by KSL’s records requests suggests members of Cox’s staff likely became aware of the whistleblower complaint at least as early as August 2022.

After Governor Cox placed Turley on paid administrative leave this year, KSL asked the governor’s office to clarify when it first learned of the complaint and the Army Inspector General’s investigation.

On Aug. 17, nearly a year after KSL’s initial outreach, KSL emailed Cox’s public information officer, Emma Williams, to ask when the governor’s office was first notified of the allegations, whether the governor’s office knew of any other investigations or allegations against Turley and whether the governor’s office was aware of the pending results of the Army Inspector General’s investigation when President Joe Biden visited Utah on Aug. 9 and briefly met with both Cox and Turley on the tarmac at Utah’s Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base.

Williams did not reply to KSL’s email.

Maj. Gen. Turley greeting President Biden on his visit to Salt Lake City, days before Turley was placed on leave. (KSL TV)

Maj. Gen. Turley greeting President Biden on his visit to Salt Lake City, days before Turley was placed on leave. (KSL TV)

Turley’s departure

Turley told KSL on Aug. 18 that he denied “any allegation of an improper relationship.” Days later, on August 21, Cox announced Turley’s intention to retire and his stepping down as adjutant general of the Utah National Guard. The governor said he’d appointed Brig. Gen. Daniel Boyack to replace Turley.

In a statement, Cox said he appreciated Turley’s “many years of service to our state and nation, and wish him well.”

Following that announcement, KSL again emailed the governor’s office and asked for clarification of when Cox learned of the whistleblower complaint and Army Inspector General investigation.

Williams replied, “We are still getting information and will get back to you as soon as possible.” Williams has not provided any additional information since; over a week after her previous response.

KSL notified the governor’s office it intended to publish this story on Aug. 30 and made yet another request for clarification or comment. The governor’s office did not respond ahead of a stated 5 p.m. deadline.

Emma Williams replied, “We are still getting information and will get back to you as soon as possible.” Williams has not provided any additional information since; over a week after her previous response.

KSL notified the governor’s office it intended to publish this story on August 30, 2023 and made yet another request for clarification or comment. The governor’s office did not respond ahead of a stated 5 p.m. deadline.


UPDATE: Gov. Spencer Cox’s office emailed KSL two hours after first publication of this story. In response to KSL’s question asking when the governor’s office initially became aware of the whistleblower complaint and Army Inspector General’s investigation, it said KSL’s Aug. 30, 2022, records request was the first time the governor’s office heard of a potential misconduct complaint against Maj. Gen. Michael Turley.

“Shortly thereafter, on Sept. 12, 2022,” a staff member for the governor’s office said, “the Army Times made the office aware of allegations about an inappropriate relationship involving Maj. Gen. Turley and about the Army Inspector General’s investigation of that alleged relationship.”

Governor’s office said Cox immediately directed the Utah Division of Human Resources Management to investigate the matter, but because the Army Inspector General declined to share information about witnesses or other evidence, the governor “was left with insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.”

Instead, the governor’s office said it “had to wait for the results of the Army Inspector General’s investigation, or for additional evidence, before taking official action regarding Maj. Gen. Turley’s employment.”

The Army confirmed on Aug. 18 its investigation into allegations against Turley had concluded with a substantiated finding.

The governor’s office said it learned of those pending results a week prior, on August 11, 2023, two days after President Biden’s visit to Utah.

KSL previously asked the governor’s office to provide additional information about what Cox is doing in response to the investigation and any potential disciplinary actions for Turley. The governor’s office did not respond to those questions.

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Questions raised about Gov. Cox’s knowledge of investigation into Maj. Gen. Michael Turley