The Air Force confirms to Breitbart News that Lt. Col. Liz Valenzuela, a gay active duty officer at the center of a controversial case of religious liberty in the military, did not receive approval from her superiors prior to making public comments to Slate Magazine last month critical of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as her former commander, Col. Deborah Liddick, and a retired non-commissioned officer formerly under her command, Master Sergeant Phillip Monk.
A former military officer with significant command experience tells Breitbart News that Valenzuela’s comments violate the code of military conduct. The Air Force, however, tells Breitbart News that Valenzuela is not currently under investigation.
“Lt. Col. [Valenzuela] has definitely violated at least the general article about conduct unbecoming, in publicly criticizing Senator Cruz, her former commander, and the NCO [Phillip Monk]. She probably also violated a local regulation against press interviews without permission,” a former military officer with significant command experience tells Breitbart News.
Valenzuela also appears to have violated Air Force Instruction 51-902, “Political Activities by Members of the Air Force,” which states that active duty members of the Air Force may not “allow, or cause to be published, partisan political articles signed or authorized by the member for soliciting votes for or against a candidate.”
But the Air Force does not appear to be investigating Valenzuela for these possible violations of the military code of conduct and Air Force rules.
“Lt. Col. Valenzuela is no longer assigned to the 37th Training Wing, and we are not aware of any disciplinary action against her,” a spokesperson for the Air Force Air Education and Training Command at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas tells Breitbart News.
“Lt. Col. Valenzuela is currently a member of the Defense Logistics Agency,” the spokesperson tells Breitbart News.
“I’ll have to refer you to the Defense Logistics Agency Public Affairs for further details on the member in regards to any probable investigation,” the spokesperson added.
Breitbart News asked the Air Force spokesperson if the military code of conduct prohibits officers from making the kind of comments Lt. Col. Valenzuela made to Slate Magazine without receiving authorization from superiors.
The spokesperson asked for additional time in order to discuss that question with military attorneys prior to responding. Breitbart News anticipates receiving a response, but as of yet has not heard back.
Monk’s attorney is calling on the Air Force to “demonstrate some grace” towards Valenzuela.
“As Phillip’s attorneys, we are very pleased with the ultimate outcome whereby the Air Force exonerated him,” Michael Berry of the Liberty Institute tells Breitbart News.
“However, it is unfortunate that Lt. Col. Valenzuela may now face a misconduct investigation as a result of her public statements,” Berry adds.
“We were hopeful that Sgt. Monk’s victory would bring closure to Lt. Col. Valenzuela, and we think it would be best if the Air Force demonstrate some grace, despite her unfortunate comments,” Berry concludes.
On August 13, 2013 Monk signed a Military Equal Opportunity Formal Complaint, Case FC-13-003, which launched the investigation into the incident involving Valenzuela and himself.
As Monk’s legal counsel at the Liberty Institute described the incident:
On or about [July] 25, 2013, SMSgt Monk, acting in his official capacity as First Sergeant for the 326th Training Squadron (TRS), advised you regarding an investigation into alleged discrimination by a 326th TRS instructor. As a result of his advice, you asked SMSgt Monk whether he could agree that a verbal statement expressing religious or moral opposition to same-sex marriage was discrimination. SMSgt Monk answered that he did not agree that it was discrimination. You advised him that his position was contrary to Air Force policy. As a consequence of SMSgt Monk’s sincerely-held religious belief and his disagreement with you, you immediately relieved him of his duties as First Sergeant for the 326th TRS. Additionally, a member of your command contacted SMSgt Monk on August 9, 2013, and informed him that you had placed a restriction on his liberty. Specifically, he was no longer allowed to be physically present in the 326th TRS building or facilities.
That complaint was resolved in an investigation conducted by Col. Mark Camerer, 37th Training Wing Commander, which concluded on October 8, 2013:
Air Education and Training Command completed an investigation into a claim an airman made publicly that his commander removed him from a leadership position because of his personally held beliefs about homosexuality.
The investigation, initiated Aug. 15 by Col. Mark Camerer, 37th Training Wing commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, found the claim unsubstantiated. The investigation also looked into whether Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk made false official statements. It concluded statements he made were false; however, they did not rise to a level that violated Articles 107 and/or 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (emphasis added)
On October 1, 2013, in a memorandum to Monk, Col. Camerer stated “As you are aware, I recently ordered a Commander-Directed Investigation (CDI), which included an allegation you made a false official statement. That investigation is now complete. The CDI was conducted between 21 August 2013 and 06 September 2013. The investigating officer (IO) completed his report on 16 September 2013 and determined that the allegation was unsubstantiated. After reviewing the CDI on 29 September 2013, I concurred with the IO.” (emphasis added)
The report concluded Monk made false statements but not “official false statements.” Does that conclusion mean Monk was found to have lied by the Air Force?
In short, the answer is no.
According to military law, the Air Force could only find Monk “guilty of lying” subsequent to a court-martial, which did not take place.
Article 107 of the military code requires three elements to constitute a crime: (1) An “official statement” related to official military duties. (2) The “official statement” must be false. (3) The person making the “official statement” must know it is false.
In the October 2013 report outlining the results of the investigation, the Air Force concluded that Monk had made false statements, but found claims they were “official false statements” unsubstantiated. None of the 3 elements required to find Monk “guilty of lying,” were present, and therefore he was not subject to any punitive actions by the Air Force.
The October 2013 report also found:
The investigation concluded Monk was not removed from his position, but rather moved, as scheduled, to another Lackland unit, an assignment he was notified of in April 2013. The report stated Monk never voiced a religious or moral objection about same sex marriage to his commander.
“The weight of the evidence shows that religion was never discussed between the two,” Camerer said.
“In the end, this is a case about command authority, good order and discipline, and civil rights—not religious freedoms.”
According to the report, the incident in question occurred when Monk disagreed with the corrective action his commander planned to take against a military training instructor who made discriminatory remarks against homosexuals during a teaching session with basic trainees on July 20. The commander, in consultation with the base legal advisor, concluded the statements crossed the line, were discriminatory in nature, and required administrative action. Monk argued that administrative action was inappropriate because the MTI was exercising his right to free speech.
The investigating officer, an Air Force colonel, wrote in his report, “Based on his training as a first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Monk should have known that discriminatory remarks on the basis of sexual orientation are against Air Force Policy. He should have also known, while Air Force members do have the right to speech and religion, that right does not mean airmen can say whatever they want, whenever they want.”
The commander told Monk her decision to counsel the instructor was final, at which point Monk requested two weeks of official leave until his replacement arrived, which she approved. Monk was on leave from July 29 to Aug. 12, the same day the squadron’s new first sergeant reported for duty, a move approved for several months. On Aug. 12, Monk began his previously accepted position with the 59th Medical Wing.
“The Air Force will not take any disciplinary actions against either Monk or his commander, as a result of this investigation. The investigation is now closed,” the report concluded.
The October 2013 report, however, contained some factual errors.
It concluded, for instance, that “Monk was on leave from July 29 to Aug. 12, the same day the squadron’s new first sergeant reported for duty, a move approved for several months. On Aug. 12, Monk began his previously accepted position with the 59th Medical Wing.”
However, personnel orders signed by then-Major Valenzuela on June 26, 2013 indicate that Monk was scheduled to move to his new assignment on September 30, 2013.
On August 13, 2013, Valenzuela signed new orders for Monk, which accelerated his transfer out of her command by 6 weeks to August 14, 2013.
Monk served in the Air Force for an additional year and three months. He was honored by the Air Force in 2014, and retired in January 2015 after 20 years of service.
On August 21, Monk appeared at the “Rally for Religious Liberty” held in Des, Moines Iowa that featured Senator Cruz. In the accompanying Stand for Religious Liberty video, Monk said of the complaint he filed: “I had to relent being fired in order to not violate my conscience, not violate tenets of my deeply held religious beliefs.”
Although Monk’s language in the video was somewhat indirect, in this context he appears to be using the word “relent” to mean “open my mind to the possibility of.”
A screen shot from the video reads “After 19 years of service, Senior Staff Sgt. Monk was relieved of duty for expressing a traditional view of marriage.”
“In the military right now, you can not speak Biblical truth about marriage,” Monk said at the rally.
“I come back from a deployment to an open lesbian commander… She backs me into a corner, wants to know my views on marriage. I will tell you this, I’m backed into a corner between a major and my maker, I know where I’m going. If it’s between a commander or my creator, I know where I’m going,” Monk added.
Valenzuela took exception to Monk’s comments. Rather than take her concerns to her superiors, she decided to criticize Monk publicly, both in a Slate Magazine and in Facebook posts which appear to come from her personal account.
In the interview published August 26 which was not approved by her superiors, Valenzuela told Slate Magazine:
What led to the conflict between you and Monk?
One military training instructor who worked for me and counseled young airmen told them: “Homosexuals were the downfall of Rome, and now they’ll be the downfall of the military, and the military will fall because of their lust and greed.” About 13 trainees filed a complaint against him. Those complaints went straight to my boss, who told me we had to do something about it.
I went to legal, and legal said, “You have to do something about this.” We had a zero tolerance policy on discrimination. I went back to my staff and told them. Monk said, “He’s got freedom of speech!” But we had to discipline the instructor. It wasn’t even a huge punishment. It was a warning.
Monk was up in arms. He came to me and said, “You know, ma’am, I can tell we’re not gonna agree on this. My replacement is already coming in. Do you mind if I take leave while this happens?” I said, “Sure, it’s your prerogative.” He walked out of my office, filled out the paperwork, gave it to me, and I approved.
Then he said I fired him.
But he was scheduled to leave the position already.
Yes. When I first met Monk, he told me, “I’m getting ready to leave, and I don’t want to get too involved with the squadron.” He was slated to rotate out.
How quickly did Monk take his story public?
The Wednesday after he went on leave, I was at a restaurant, and my major called me. “Have you seen Fox News?” he asked. And there was Monk, on Fox News, talking about how I fired him over religious freedom.
Then he went to the Liberty Counsel, and they changed it completely. They said I’m a lesbian, and I had an agenda. Monk went on this crusade against me. I’m getting hate mail and death threats because of this.
My family, we are Christian as well. We bow our head to pray for dinner. We hold hands and we pray together. It blows my mind that people took Monk at his word. That’s not a Christian thing to do—bearing false witness to your neighbors.
Did the Air Force believe Monk?
They launched an investigation and cleared me. They found him guilty of lying. But then they gave him a decoration because they didn’t want to rock the boat. My commander did nothing to help me or protect me.
How did your commander react to all this?
She wasn’t going to do anything to help me. At one point I went to her and said, I’m getting physical hate mail to my home, emails to my government computer that are threatening my life. I asked if I could change my email address. She said, “No, you need to get a tougher skin.”
Do you think she was homophobic?
When I took command of the squadron, and I told her I wanted to introduce my wife and children, she said, absolutely not. You cannot say that she’s your wife. I said, we’ve been married—we have a certificate from the state of New York. She said, no, actually, you’re not. I had to go to legal and fight her. Legal barely gave an inch and said, you can call her your “partner.”
When I wrote up my speech, my commander reviewed it and told me, “If you slip up and say she’s your wife, you and I are gonna have a discussion afterward.” I was just asking to say she was my spouse like anybody else would say. After that, my commander wouldn’t let my spouse do anything with the squadron. She said it “wouldn’t look proper” for my female spouse to be in the front and center.
My commander also refused to give me leave for my son’s first day of school so I could explain to his teachers that he has a medical condition—something I’d done every year before. She denied me leave when my son had a medical emergency that required hospitalization. She was really unfair about my family.
What do you make of Ted Cruz’s fawning profile of Monk?
I believe Ted Cruz believes Monk is telling the truth. He doesn’t realize that Monk lied—a lot. Hopefully, if Ted Cruz actually knew that Monk lied, he would not have used him.
That’s the problem. Nobody knows the actual truth because I never got to say my side. Everybody kept saying, keep quiet. Let this blow over. I’m getting death threats and hate mail, but nobody seems to care because Monk’s in the spotlight crying on cue.
You were promoted to lieutenant colonel despite Monk’s accusations. Was there any acrimony among Monk’s supporters over your advancement?
When I was promoted, I had such a huge turnout at my change of command. People I had served with way before came and told me, “I can’t believe you’re leaving! We loved you so much! You were the best commander ever!” I got so many accolades and warm wishes.
I don’t mean to toot my own horn. But I’m gay and married to a woman, and I thought people would shy away from me. But they didn’t. They were very excited and happy once they realized I didn’t have an agenda. It’s not a matter of being gay or straight. It’s a matter of being a leader.
Though Valenzuela did not mention her former commander by name in the Slate Magazine interview, comments posted on Facebook at a site called “The American Military Partners Association” from a Facebook account labeled ‘Liz Valenzuela’ that contains an image of a woman that appears to be Lt. Col. Valenzuela referenced Col. Liddick specifically:
“My family and I suffered a huge injustice because of Liddick and the many lies Monk told,” one post dated August 26 read.
Col. Liddick was Valenzuela’s commander in 2013 during the time of Monk’s complaint.
Liddick was placed in charge of the entire 737th Training Group, which trains 35,000 Air Force recruits a year, in 2012. The 37th Training Wing is part of the 737th.
“Wow! He was found to have lied and now is no longer in the Air Force,” the owner of the ‘Liz Valenzuela’ Facebook account said of Monk in another post dated August 26.
Though both Monk’s legal team at the Liberty Institute and the Air Force seem to be willing to put the matter to rest, Lt. Col. Valenzuela appears to still want her day in court.
She may yet get it.
A spokesperson for the Air Force provided this comment to Breitbart News shortly after this article was published:
The Uniform Code of Military justice governs the conduct of all military members. It would be inappropriate for us to comment and in fact would be speculation as to what if any action the owning unit may take with respect to any member of another organization. What we can say is that while in command, Lt. Col. Valenzuela was briefed by her Group Commander on how to responsibly engage with the press.