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 InhofeHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? 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 McSallyArizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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 Ernst'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections 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 WarrenKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators introduce bill to block Trump 'public charge' rule Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator MORE (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Lawmakers mark anniversary of Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersDemocrats introduce bill to block taxpayer-funded spending at Trump properties Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks MORE (Mich.).

Other Democrats, though, decided to back Hyten along with every Republican except for Ernst. Democratic Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Trump moving forward to divert .6B from military projects for border wall MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenLewandowski launches campaign-style website during Capitol Hill hearing Democrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (N.H.); Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' MORE (Va.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Senate Democrats to hold the floor to protest inaction on gun violence MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) voted in support of Hyten. Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year 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.