A military judge on Tuesday ordered two U.S. Army generals to testify about whether they were pressured by superiors to charge another general with the sexual assault of a female captain.
The judge, Col. James Pohl, granted a pre-trial motion from lawyers representing accused Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair. It compels testimony by Gen. Dan Allyn and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt.
Sinclair's legal team alleges that high-ranking Pentagon officials may have placed improper pressure on Allyn, then the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg and Sinclair's boss.
A court martial for Sinclair is scheduled to begin June 25 on charges that include forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery.
Allyn, who was recently promoted to head the Army's Forces Command, could testify as soon as Wednesday. It is not clear when Colt, the current commander at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, might take the stand.
In court Tuesday, Sinclair's lawyers cited e-mails obtained over the weekend that they contend suggest top Army generals might have been consulted ahead of Allyn's referral of the charges last year. Under the military code of justice, a commanding officer weighing whether to charge a subordinate with a crime is supposed to be insulated from the influence of those farther up the chain of command.
Richard Scheff, Sinclair's lead civilian lawyer, told the judge that Allyn, Colt and other Army officials had declined requests to speak to the defense team voluntarily and asked that they be subpoenaed.
"I've got e-mails that suggest the involvement of senior officials in this case," Scheff said. "This is not a fishing expedition."
Sinclair's case is heading to trial amid the sting of sexual assault allegations and embarrassing sex scandals involving the military. President Barack Obama publicly warned the Defense Department earlier this month that he expects its leaders to take tougher action against sexual predators and redouble efforts to prevent assaults within the ranks.
A 27-year Army veteran, Sinclair faces life in prison if convicted on the sexual assault charge. It's rare for an Army general to face court-martial. There have been only two cases in recent years.
Pohl agreed Tuesday to a request from prosecutors to dismiss one of the more minor charges against Sinclair, that he violated an order by possessing alcohol while on deployment in Afghanistan. An unopened bottle of scotch was found in his quarters — a gift defense lawyers said came from a top Pentagon official visiting the Muslim nation.
Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan before being relieved in May 2012 during the criminal investigation. He has been on special assignment since then at Fort Bragg.
The female captain at the heart of the case said she carried on a three-year sexual relationship with Sinclair, a married father of two who was her direct superior. Adultery is a crime under military law, and the admission could end her career.
She testified at the evidentiary hearing last year that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair, but that Sinclair threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.
The woman said she usually wanted to have sex with the general, though she said that on two occasions after they had argued he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex, even as she sobbed.
The Associated Press does not publicly identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also testified that they had given the general nude photos at his request.
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck