Bill Could Force Ex-Cole Skipper into Retirement

Commander Kirk Lippold, who skippered the U.S.S. Cole during its October 2000 attack by al Qaeda, could be forced to retire if a bill working its way through the Senate passes.

A U.S. Senate committee is recommending changes in military promotion regulations that could force the former skipper of the Norfolk-based destroyer Cole out of the Navy in 2008. Language quietly inserted into a Pentagon spending bill by the Senate Armed Services Committee early this month would require that Cmdr. Kirk Lippold retire unless President Bush resubmits his nomination for promotion to captain and he is confirmed by the Senate.

The committee declined to act on Lippold’s nomination when Bush originally submitted it in 2002. Lippold’s name was returned to the White House when Congress adjourned at the end of that year, but the Navy still considers him eligible for promotion, and Bush could renominate him at any time. Though the committee’s chairman, Virginia Sen. John Warner, has questioned Lippold’s “qualities of judgment, forehandedness and attention to detail,” a Warner spokesman said Monday that his boss has made no decision about Lippold’s fitness for promotion. John Ullyot, Warner’s press secretary, declined comment on whether Warner authored the provisions recommended by the committee. The language concerning promotions is part of a spending bill unanimously endorsed by the committee, he said.

Lippold is not singled out by name in the committee plan, which would require Bush to act by October 2008 to renominate any officer who has been nominated but whose name has been returned to the White House without a vote by the Senate. Lippold and two other officers are the only Navy personnel in that category, the Navy confirmed Monday. If Lippold and the others are not renominated, they would be required to retire.


In addition to Lippold, the committee’s new language would directly affect Cmdr. Paul Thompson and Capt. David Mercer, who were selected by the Navy but not acted on by the Senate for promotion to captain and rear admiral, respectively. The Senate’s inaction on Mercer, who was nominated last year, came after a Navy request that the service be given more time to review his case. Thompson, meanwhile, has been stuck at the commander’s rank since 1990, when the Senate failed to vote on his nomination. A lawyer, he worked in the White House as a military assistant in the mid-1980s and was investigated but never charged in a scandal involving the sale of arms to Iran and the transfer of the sale proceeds to “Contra” fighters opposing the then-government of Nicaragua.

The Senate has a constitutional right to weigh in on officer promotions, although that right is seldom exercised for non-flag/general officers. To include language that would effectively kill the careers of three officers in a spending bill strikes me as both cowardly and out of bounds.

That commander Thompson has elected to remain in the Navy all these years at the rank of Commander is a testament to his optimism, love of service, or mental instability. Most men would have retired long, long ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M. Murcek says:

    In what way is this not a bill of attainder?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, it’s not a criminal law for one thing.

  3. NS - Virginia says:

    I amazed at the hypocrisy of Senator Warner. He is willing to send men and women to their deaths to defend the constitution, but he is unwilling to exercise his rights and obligations as a US Senator. What is the purpose of the law, other than to prevent other Senators from exercising their right of “advise and consent?” Warner has the right to vote against any promotion, why not simply vote against this one? He knows that the full Senate will approve the promotion, he is just a bully pulling out all the stops to get what he wants regardless of what is right.