Senate panel meets with woman accusing No. 2 general nominee of sexual assault

Senate panel meets with woman accusing No. 2 general nominee of sexual assault
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The woman accusing the nominee to be the No. 2 general in the country of sexual assault testified privately Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, two Democratic senators confirmed.

Committee members Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback MORE (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the panel met with Gen. John Hyten’s accuser during its closed-door Tuesday morning business meeting.

“I found her very believable,” Duckworth told reporters. “I do think it becomes a he-said, she-said kind of situation, but I have some questions after listening to her testimony where I’m going to try to follow up and seek some sort of clarification.”

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Blumenthal said the committee met with the woman for "several hours," adding that he will have the woman's account "very closely looked at" because "the survivor deserves respect and serious consideration."

Earlier in the day, committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Defense bill includes fix for military families' survivor benefits Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' MORE (R-Okla.) declined to comment on the meeting, telling reporters only that “you know what we’re discussing.”

Several other committee members also declined to comment on the meeting.

Senators had previously been briefed by defense officials on the accusations against Hyten, whom President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles Trump on removal of protester at rally: 'We don't want to be politically correct' Trump rails against FBI, impeachment during Pennsylvania rally MORE has nominated to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Duckworth and Blumenthal said the committee is also scheduled to meet with Hyten himself later this week.

The committee has a business meeting scheduled for Thursday morning to “consider pending military nominations,” according to a notice.

The female officer told The Associated Press that Hyten subjected her to unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 when she was one of his aides. She further alleged that when she rebuffed him, he tried to derail her military career.

An Air Force investigation cleared Hyten of the allegations, but some senators have questioned how the investigation was carried out.

The accusations have stalled Hyten’s confirmation process as the Armed Services Committee debates how to proceed.

Duckworth said Tuesday’s meeting with the woman left her with questions about “why Hyten has been treated differently than other high-ranking officers, or any officers for that matter, who have similar accusations against them.”

She added that "there are quite a number of us on the Democratic side" who believe "there are many other officers who could do this job."

Senators are facing a time crunch in filling the vice chairman role because the current vice chairman, Gen. Paul Selva, is slated to retire at the end of July.

The pending vacancy is one of several that have senators concerned about a leadership vacuum at the Pentagon.

Senators confirmed Mark Esper on Tuesday to be Defense secretary, giving the department its first Senate-confirmed leader in more than six months.

But several other top posts remain vacant, including deputy Defense secretary, Air Force secretary and chief management officer.

Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:04 p.m.