Senators on Tuesday questioned the Coast Guard’s top official about the service’s cooperation with a congressional inquiry into a report that detailed decades of sexual assaults at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations blasted what they viewed as lackluster efforts by the service to provide documents related to a secret report known as “Operation Fouled Anchor,” which outlined years of sexual assault and inaction by at least 43 academy staff from the late 1980s to 2006.

Ranking Member Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., during the hearing flipped through a stack of documents provided by the service to show numerous pages containing significant redactions. The Coast Guard also did not provide documents that were attached to some emails, including an initial draft of the Operation Fouled Anchor report, Johnson said.

“This is not full transparency,” Johnson said. “I think it requires subpoenas, requires a hearing like this to lay this all out. I wish it didn’t have to be so.”

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan said the service provided the committee with a total of roughly 18,000 pages of redacted documents after reviewing nearly two million. Lawmakers and investigators could review the documents in full during an “in camera review,” Fagan said, which entails a private screening of evidence.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman of the panel, questioned the Coast Guard’s motives for refusing to send documents it deemed too “sensitive” — or ultimately “embarrassing.”

Blumenthal also criticized what he called a last-minute “document dump” by the Coast Guard on Monday before the hearing, when the service provided about 1,000 pages, some of which were redundant and filed in an order that made analysis difficult, he said.

“The situation demands unsparing truth telling, following the evidence where it leads and being willing to face that truth, even though it may be embarrassing to friends, colleagues and predecessors,” Blumenthal said.

“It amounts to a cover-up,” Blumenthal later added.

The hearing came just a day after the academy’s sexual assault response coordinator resigned from her position, alleging she was directed to withhold documents that victims used to report sexual assaults.

Shannon Norenberg wrote in a blog post that those documents would have otherwise been processed, leading to a spike in reported sexual assaults that would eventually draw the ire of Congress.

To date, nearly 40 whistleblowers have come forward in the scandal, Blumenthal said.

Fagan, meanwhile, defended the service’s cooperation in the congressional inquiry and called the effort to provide documents to the panel an “unprecedented undertaking.” The furnished documents, along with their redactions, had been approved by Coast Guard attorneys, she said.

“This is not the cover up,” Fagan said. “I am committed to providing documents in good faith. ... I continue to work with my own lawyers and the [Department of Homeland Security] to ensure that we are providing documents consistent with executive branch and constitutional process.”

Fagan, who is the first uniformed woman to lead a branch of military, said she is also “fully cooperating” with the Coast Guard’s inspector general investigation.

Following the initial reports of Operation Fouled Anchor, Fagan in July 2023 announced a 90-day accountability and transparency review for the Coast Guard’s sexual assault and harassment policies. Later in December, Fagan introduced 33 recommendations to address policy issues that would help stifle sexual assault in the service.

A Government Accountability Office report found that by February 2024 the Coast Guard had only completed five of the 33 recommendations.

All 33 recommendations are in “various forms of implementation,” Fagan said.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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