A Navy one-star was fired from his position at Naval Sea Systems Command last year after investigators determined he had an affair with a female subordinate, according to records obtained by Navy Times.
Rear Adm. Stephen Williamson was removed as deputy commander of logistics, maintenance and industrial operations on Aug. 2.
He was reassigned to the Office of Naval Research. He has not responded to Navy Times messages or a request for comment submitted through military officials.
But in a heavily redacted copy of the Naval Inspector General investigation released to Navy Times in response to a Freedom of Information request, Williamson acknowledged last May that he engaged in “an inappropriate affair” with a civilian subordinate, a “mistake of judgment and personal failure that he deeply regrets."
On duty since 1988, Williamson — a career surface warfare officer — added that “the relationship was a lapse and contrary to his core values and his responsibilities to his family and the Navy,” IG wrote.
Sparked by a complaint to the IG, the report paints a NAVSEA swirling in rumors about the rear admiral’s romance — and an unnamed superior who didn’t want to believe the salacious scuttlebutt was real.
Although IG reported to then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on July 18 that Williamson appeared to have committed adultery in violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the one-star has not been brought to court-martial proceedings.
Williamson arrived at NAVSEA in September 2017, before the younger woman arrived to work there.
She later told an IG investigator that they’d known each other for a decade before that, “always had a friendship” and “communicated often using Facebook Messenger.”
Once they reunited at NAVSEA, a colleague recollected, “they saw RDML Williamson in the area ‘all the time.’”
Williamson gave the woman “Priority 1” work, which afforded her “greater visibility with senior NAVSEA leadership and potentially an advantage over others with regard to future employment opportunities,” the report states.
NAVIG found the duo engaged in “adulterous conduct” from November 2017 to September 2018. But the woman said she didn’t begin having sex with her admiral boss “on multiple occasions" until June 2018, adding that their affair ended three months later.
IG wrote that at some point she “probably told” an unidentified NAVSEA coworker over drinks that “something was going on” with Williamson.
“It could never go anywhere,” the coworker said. “He’s married and an admiral. So several of our conversations were, ‘you should probably stop doing this because, eventually, it will just blow up and devastate everything around you.’”
“And I had told (the woman), ‘well, if other people are concerned, you should probably stop before it becomes a larger issue and other people are concerned outside our organization,’” the coworker told IG.
The names of the 13 civilians and military members who spoke to IG are redacted in the report provided to Navy Times, as is the name of the woman with whom the married Williamson had the affair.
Although Navy investigators apparently probed two other allegations of wrongdoing lodged against Williamson, those accusations were not substantiated and all details about them were blacked out in the report released to Navy Times.
After watching the pair during a work trip in late 2017, several NAVSEA employees began gossiping that the rear admiral and the woman were having an affair.
“I’m like, wait, no, this can’t be happening,” one coworker told IG. “I read so many articles where people that are having relations with subordinates. Why would this smart, intelligent man do something like this?”
During a mid-2018 trip, another colleague watching them saw “too much weird interaction,” with the female subordinate “looking at him” and Williamson “constantly looking” for her.
Several times in 2018, a NAVSEA colleague also warned him about “concerns in the duty section that RDML Williamson was engaged in an adulterous relationship" with the woman.
According to the IG report, that employee shared his concerns with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Due to the numerous redactions in the report, however, it’s difficult to guess if the NAVSEA employee was a subordinate, a peer or perched above Williamson at the agency.
During a second talk with Williamson, the unnamed colleague pressed him again, but the rear admiral would neither confirm nor deny he was having an affair. Instead, Williamson appeared “very frustrated” by the office chatter, according to the report.
“Again, I mainly receive frustration, sort of, ‘Jeez, this is crazy’ sort of response,” the NAVSEA employee told IG.
One of Williamson’s superiors — whose name also was redacted in the report — recalled giving the one-star “fatherly advice” about putting himself in a position where people could make “improper inferences,” the report states.
“I didn’t ask him, so Steve, are you having an affair?” the superior said. “I just said you need to avoid this.”
Several passages from that admiral’s interview are redacted in the transcript provided to Navy Times, but he seemed willing to give Williamson “the benefit of the doubt,” assuming some coworkers might have misconstrued his “day-to-day way of acting as something that was wrong.”
“My advice to him is, hey, you’re a one-star,” the superior said. “What was okay when you were a captain is not okay right now, and you’re going to have to be aware of that.”
If there was nothing to the scuttlebutt, Williamson would change his behavior to avoid the appearance of impropriety “if he had any brains at all,” the unnamed admiral said.
“I understand completely,” Williamson told him. “I will take the appropriate steps to make sure I don’t put myself in that situation going forward.”
“I assumed that would be the end of it if there was nothing there,” Williamson’s unnamed superior recalled.
The woman initially denied having an affair with Williamson in January 2019 but fessed up when IG called her back for a second interview later that month.
While they consummated the affair in June 2018, she said they had discussed the possibility of the act during moments of flirtation before that.
“When it happened, it’s always like, oh my God, that shouldn’t have happened, we know better, it’s the wrong thing,” she said. “I mean, both of us…I’m not proud of this.”
One unidentified NAVSEA employee believed the woman was in love with Williamson, according to the IG report.
“People do dumb things when they think they’re in love,” the coworker said. “I think that that is the only reason she would continue to put herself in this obviously awful situation.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.