Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault

Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault
© Aaron Schwartz

The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to advance the nomination of Gen. John Hyten, who has been accused of sexual assault by a subordinate officer, to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The committee voted to advance Hyten's nomination Wednesday, a day after his confirmation hearing, in a meeting off the Senate floor, committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters.

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The panel voted 20-7 to approve Hyten, according to a news release.

Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser has accused Hyten of making several unwanted sexual advances 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 ejaculated on her.

During the hearing, Hyten categorically denied the allegations against him.

“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,” Hyten said. “Nothing happened, ever.”

An Air Force investigation into the allegations ended without any charges against Hyten.

After the hearing Tuesday, Spletstoser maintained her accusations.

“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.”

Hyten got a boost early in his hearing when Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits MORE (R-Ariz.), who revealed earlier this year she was raped by a superior officer, said she was backing him.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Inhofe said he was concerned about the message that would be sent by not confirming Hyten.

“What would happen with all these thousands of junior grade officers out there striving for the top, knowing the likelihood is not very great they get there, but if they do this could happen to them,” Inhofe said. “If someone can accuse someone of sexual assault without any evidence, without any corroborative agreement, then anyone could do that. It could happen to anyone.”

Still, several senators said they continued to have questions about Hyten’s ability to serve as the second highest ranking general in the country.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP The Hill's Campaign Report: Who will Biden pick to be his running mate? Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection MORE (R-Iowa) told reporters she voted against Hyten. During the hearing she expressed concerns about his judgment, but not because of the assault allegations. Rather, she questioned his handling of a separate investigation into Spletstoser, which found the colonel had created a “toxic” work environment.

“You could not bring yourself to admit or recognize toxic leadership within your command,” Ernst told Hyten. “You only did something about it when concerns were raised about your own leadership.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday he had questions about how Hyten will tackle sexual assault in the military as vice chairman.

“I have a number of unresolved questions about his judgment, and I am deeply dissatisfied with the answers that he gave me about what the military should do to combat sexual assault,” Blumenthal said. "And there was no reason that this vote had to be today as opposed to a month from now.”

The other "no" votes came from Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandBiden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates Duckworth on whether 'sizable' amount of Trump supporters are racist: 'Of course not' Davis: My recommendation for vice president on Biden ticket MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersSenators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery Trump may have power, but he still has no plan to fight the pandemic 100 Days: Democrats see clear path to Senate majority MORE (Mich.).

Other Democrats, though, decided to back Hyten along with every Republican except for Ernst. Democratic Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (N.H.); Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pompeo defers to Justice on question of Trump election tweet Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election MORE (Va.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) voted in support of Hyten. Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingThe Susan Collins conundrum Trump ramps up China tensions with consulate shutdown Congress backs push for national cyber czar MORE (Maine), who caucuses with Democrat, also supported Hyten.

Kaine said in a statement Wednesday that if “there had still been ambiguity over whether Gen. Hyten may have committed the heinous crimes described in the allegations, I would have voted against advancing his nomination." 

“But the investigations conducted both by the military and the committee produced evidence that Gen. Hyten did not sexually assault Col. Spletstoser or engage in an unprofessional relationship with her,” Kaine said. “I did not reach this conclusion lightly, but I believe we owe it to the women and men of the military and this nation to follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Updated at 5:48 p.m.