Following the leak of a federal document that said he spent time at work searching for and viewing sexually explicit material, the 15-year steward of the Gettysburg Battlefield has been reassigned to a desk job within the National Park Service.
"Strangely enough, right now, in addition to the sorrow for the grief I've caused friends and family, I'm feeling almost a sense of relief," Latschar said when contacted Wednesday night. "I've spent the last 21 years of my life in the public arena, where everything I say or do is considered fair game.
"I think it's going to be nice to go to a desk job as a staff person working for somebody else who has to make all the decisions."
Reached at home and confronted with more details of the leaked Department of the Interior memo, Latschar spoke publicly for the first time about what he said is a flawed conclusion of the department's Office of the Inspector General.
He did, however, admit to searching for sexually explicit material "occasionally" during work hours between August 2004 and September 2006. Latschar compared the images he searched for to those featured in Playboy magazine.
That's not the only types of images, however, that Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John E. Dupuy said he found evidence of on the superintendent's hard drive in a memo addressed to acting National Park Service Director Daniel N. Wenk and obtained by The Evening Sun.
According to that document, Latschar "used his government computer to search for and view sexually-explicit images, including those of bestiality, group sex, and nudism."
Latschar denied at least some of the allegations.
"The only thing that I would like people to know is that I never deliberately searched for some of that stuff," he said. "I never ever, ever searched for group sex or bestiality."
Latschar said he would not use the term "pornography" to describe the type of images he willingly viewed.
"I know that's a term that's much debated by society, but I wasn't searching for any particular behaviors," he said. "There is no doubt that I'm guilty of improper use of a government computer. I would contest ... their written conclusions. But of course that's not possible."
News of the Inspector General's findings first became public Monday, when The Washington Post published a story citing the memo, presumably obtained from a government source, that stated Latschar used his office computer over a two-year period to view more than 3,400 sexually explicit images.
The Evening Sun has since obtained the same document, which also states that tens of thousands of images "of all types" were found on Latschar's computer hard drive. According to the memo, the 3,456 images cited by the Post article are "considered the most sexually-explicit."
Latschar said the federal investigators - who seized the superintendent's hard drive as part of a broader investigation that ultimately exonerated Latschar of other alleged wrongdoings - counted every image that resulted from an Internet search. That includes the bestiality and group-sex images Latschar said he neither sought nor viewed.
"The IG counted every single image," he said. "They just counted everything."
Latschar also said although "there's no excuse" for his behavior, he was "going through some rough personal and professional times" during the two years he searched for the sexually explicit images. He said he hasn't viewed such images since then.
According to the memo, Latschar also signed a sworn statement "acknowledging his wrongdoing and acknowledging that he was aware of the wrongdoing while he was doing it."
The superintendent has seen both criticism and praise in Gettysburg since he began developing a new general-management plan for the park soon after taking over in 1994. His main project - the construction of a new park museum and visitor center - has been controversial since its inception. Many of his other policies have drawn both praise and criticism.
The Inspector General's investigation that ultimately led to the discovery of the images on Latschar's computer was prompted by the allegations of an anonymous complainant.
However, the 24-page report - which explored everything from Latschar's dealings with the private Gettysburg Foundation to an allegation that he used park money to buy a hot tub - never mentioned the sexually explicit images.
That's the way it should have remained, Latschar said. Government policy is to keep such matters private as personnel issues.
"One of the ironies here is that now it's public because somebody else violated the ... policy," Latschar said.
That's what would have happened, he said, if another Park Service employee had committed the same violations at Gettysburg and if it had been his decision how to handle the situation.
"We would have protected that employee's personal life," he said.
Numerous government officials expressed similar sentiments when asked for comment Tuesday and Wednesday before The Evening Sun obtained the memo or learned of Latschar's reassignment.
Officials at the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Office of the Inspector General directed all questions to the Park Service's Northeast regional office in Philadelphia. A spokesman there declined comment beyond confirming on Tuesday that Latschar remained superintendent.
"We don't discuss personnel issues that may or may not be under investigation," said spokesman Phil Sheridan.
Asked if there is concern within the Gettysburg Foundation about how the accusations against Latschar reflected on the organization he worked to create, spokeswoman Dru Neil repeated her previous statement.
"From our perspective, obviously that's a personnel issue that has to be handled by the National Park Service," Neil said. "We're focusing on our preservation efforts for Gettysburg. That's what our focus is and will continue to be."
Wednesday may have been Latschar's final public appearance as superintendent.
At an 8:30 a.m. press conference hosted by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground partnership to announce its success in obtaining national scenic byway status for Route 15 from Gettysburg to Monticello, Latschar was lauded for his contribution to the project.
During her time at the podium, Journey Through Hallowed Ground President Cate Magennis Wyatt thanked Latschar for his work to unite the 13 National Park Service superintendents who manage the Civil War battlefields along the recognized heritage area.
"John has done more for the National Park Service, more for Gettysburg, than any one person could possibly achieve in a lifetime," Magennis Wyatt said. "Today would not have been possible without John."
Latschar also briefly addressed the crowd and said he had been "inspired" by the group's efforts and offered to help in the cause. Approached in the morning and asked to comment on the Post's article, Latschar declined.
That night, confronted with more details, Latschar agreed to talk.
"I've been afraid if I talked about this it's going to sound like I'm splitting hairs in a Clintonesque manner," he said. "My main objective right now is to try to prevent further embarrassment to family, friends and associates."
ASSIGNMENT: FREDERICK, MD.
Friday is probably John Latschar's final day working for the National Park Service in Gettysburg.
On Monday, Latschar said, he will report to the Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Md., as the new special assistant to the park service's associate director for cultural resources.
The 15-year steward of the Gettysburg Battlefield said he received official paperwork Thursday afternoon indicating that he had lost his position as superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park after a government memo detailing Latschar's use of his office computer to view sexually explicit material was leaked to the media.
Latschar said it is his understanding that the decision to demote him was that of Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, though the official letter came from the office of Latschar's immediate supervisor, NPS Director for the Northeast Region Dennis Reidenbach.
Contacted Thursday night, Latschar said he believes the demotion is warranted.
"Given the total circumstances . . . yes, I think it's fair," he said. "In other words, I plan to accept this and show up at work Monday there in Frederick. I think that's in the best interest of me and my family and Gettysburg National Military Park."
Latschar, who holds a doctorate degree in history from Rutger's University, said he will be working in an office that specializes in projects related to archaeology, historic architecture, museum curation and anthropology.
Though the past 24 hours have been difficult, Latschar said Thursday night that he is "getting hundreds of expressions of concern and support and well wishes."