Trump nominee for Joint Chiefs post denies sexual assault allegations

Trump nominee for Joint Chiefs post denies sexual assault allegations
© Getty

Gen. John Hyten, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE's nominee to be the second-highest ranking general in the military, on Tuesday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a subordinate in 2017 in his first public comments on the issue.

“I am intensely aware the allegations made against me concern one of the most seriously problems we have in the military: sexual assault,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his confirmation hearing to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It has been a painful time for me and my family, but I want to state for you and the American people in the strongest possible terms that these allegations are false,” he continued. “Nothing happened, ever.”

A short time later, Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyLoeffler releases new ad targeting Sanders's 'socialism' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Overnight Health Care: Officials confirm 34 total coronavirus cases in US | ObamaCare favorability hits highest level in poll | McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign MORE (R-Ariz.), a committee member who revealed earlier this year that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force and was seen as a key vote, said she was supporting Hyten’s nomination.

“The truth is that Gen. Hyten is innocent of these charges,” McSally said. “Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen here.”

“I didn’t take coming to this conclusion light,” she added. “I knew the message it could send to sexual assault survivors who haven’t seen all the information on the case that I have.”

Hyten, who currently serves as commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has been accused by Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser of unwanted sexual advances, including by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her, in 2017 when she was one of his aides.

The advances escalated, she alleges, to an incident in her hotel room while they were at the Reagan National Defense Forum in which she claims that he pressed up against her while kissing her, and that he ejaculated on her.

Hyten said Tuesday that specific incident “never happened.” He further denied he ever went to her hotel room on any trips.

“Everybody knows where I am,” Hyten said. “My security detail, their job is to have eyes on me all the time.”

After the hearing, Spletstoser accused Hyten of lying.

“You just had a four-star general get up in front of the American people and in open testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and make false official statements under oath,” Spletstoser told reporters. “The bottom line is he lied about sexually assaulting me. He did it. He did it multiple times.”

Prior to Tuesday, the Armed Services Committee held five closed-door meetings reviewing the allegations.

Hyten said he would support the committee making public as much of the closed-door proceedings as it can.

Spletstoser, who testified before the committee behind closed doors last week, was sitting in the front row of the public seats during Hyten’s confirmation hearing, looking on expressionlessly.

On Tuesday, Hyten was introduced by former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who oversaw the investigation into Hyten while she was still the service secretary.

Wilson, too, forcefully defended Hyten.

“After all of this, I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion I did: Gen. Hyten was falsely accused and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination,” Wilson said.

Some senators have questioned how the Air Force carried out the investigation, saying Hyten was treated differently from other officers accused of misconduct because his security clearance was not suspended and he was not removed from command during the investigation. The investigation was also led by an officer subordinate to Hyten.

Wilson defended how the Air Force handled the issue, holding that “the military does not automatically suspend people’s clearances or remove them from command when there is an allegation of impropriety.”

She also stressed that the Air Force’s inspector general oversaw the investigation.

In their remarks, both Wilson and McSally suggested Spletstoser may have personal issues that led her to make the accusations against Hyten.

“I accept that it is entirely possible that his accuser is a wounded soldier who believes that what she is saying is true, even if it is not,” Wilson said. “That possibility makes this entire situation very sad.”

“I pray the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for,” McSally added. “But it cannot be by destroying Gen. Hyten with false allegations.”

A 2018 administrative inquiry found that Spletstoser created a “toxic” environment for those working under her at Strategic Command.

Prior to that, Hyten had given her glowing performance reviews.

Hyten said Tuesday it took him a long time to realize the leadership issue because “the nature of a toxic leader is they are brilliant to the boss.”

“When people started coming to me, because she was so brilliant in her work, I thought that there was an issue with rough edges around an Army officer. We talked about that. Rough issues about language. We talked about that,” Hyten said. “But it took me to do an actual inquiry, not into that specific behavior but in to the entire climate in my headquarters, before I actually saw the evidence that there was a toxic leader there.”

Hyten also said that Spletstoser has accused him and others in his command of at least 34 other misconduct issues outside of the sexual assault allegations since she was relieved of her Strategic Command job, none of which were substantiated.

In addition to McSally, several Republicans said they backed Hyten. Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLobbying World GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' MORE (R-Okla.) decried “allegations that have been bandied about in the press, with little regard for the truth,” while Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: More closures possible at US bases in Europe as coronavirus spreads | Pompeo says Afghan 'reduction in violence is working' | Man accused of trying to blow up vehicle at Pentagon Top general: More closures at US bases in Europe possible as coronavirus spreads Limbaugh claims coronavirus is being 'weaponized' to 'bring down' Trump MORE (R-Ark.) stressed “there has been no corroborating evidence.”

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick Senate Majority PAC launches first statewide TV ad for Democrat running against Ernst Overnight Health Care: Ernst endorses bipartisan bill to lower drug prices | US partnering with drugmakers on coronavirus vaccine | UN chief says virus poses 'enormous' risks MORE (Iowa) was the lone Republican who expressed concern about Hyten’s “judgment, leadership and fitness” to serve as vice chairman. She questioned him over his handling of the toxic work environment investigation into Spletstoser, not the assault allegations.

“You serve in one of the most important positions within our United States military overseeing our nuclear arsenal. However, you could not bring yourself to admit or recognize toxic leadership within your command,” Ernst said.

Democrats did not tip their hands at whether they support Hyten, but few asked tough questions about the sexual assault allegations.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber MORE (D-Hawaii) stressed that “while we have not been presented with any corroborating evidence, the lack of it does not necessarily mean that the accusations aren’t true.”

“Women are assaulted all the time and never tell anyone,” Hirono continued. “Men assault women all the time and don’t leave behind any evidence.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (D-Va.) commended Hyten’s demeanor throughout the committee’s process.

“You did not speak in any way disrespectfully toward your accuser. That was not easy. Nor did you speak disrespectfully to the committee. You did not say we were engaging in a witch hunt or criticize us for asking questions that we needed to ask you,” Kaine said.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y.), who has said she opposes Hyten’s nomination and has made combating military sexual assault a focus of her career, was not at Tuesday’s hearing. Gillibrand, a 2020 presidential candidate, is participating in Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Detroit.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.), another presidential contender who is participating in Tuesday’s debate, was also absent from the hearing.

--Updated at 2:10 p.m.