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 InhofeGOP 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' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report 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 McSallyOvernight 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 McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Trump seeks to boost vulnerable GOP senator with Colorado rally 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 ErnstSenate 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 Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices 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 Ann WarrenJack Black endorses Elizabeth Warren Democrats view Sanders as having best shot to defeat Trump: poll Poll: Biden, Sanders tied in Texas, followed by Warren MORE (Mass.), 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 (N.Y.), 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 (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthJoe Walsh ends GOP primary challenge to Trump Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted K ticket price MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersState officials press Congress for more resources to fight cyberattacks Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to combat cyberattacks on state and local governments Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (Mich.).

Other Democrats, though, decided to back Hyten along with every Republican except for Ernst. Democratic Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity Five Senate Democrats make impeachment case in Spanish MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia MORE (N.H.); Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe 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' Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students MORE (Va.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate report says Obama officials were 'not well-postured' to respond to Russian hacking Democratic senators ask banks to prohibit funding Arctic drilling Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) voted in support of Hyten. Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOcasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' Use of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol Hill Patrick Dempsey to star in pilot for CBS political drama 'Ways and Means' 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.