Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault denies allegations | Accuser attends hearing | Senators question Air Force investigation | North Korea fires more projectiles | US presses Germany to join naval mission to counter Iran

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: Gen. John Hyten, President Trump'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 serious 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.

"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."

McSally backs Hyten: A short time later, Sen. Martha McSally (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."

The accusations: Hyten, who currently serves as commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has been accused by Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser of unwanted sexual advances, including 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's response: 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."

His accuser's response: 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."

The lead up: 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 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 when she was in that post.

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.

Questions remain: 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.

 

NORTH KOREA FIRES UNIDENTIFIED PROJECTILES: North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles Wednesday morning local time, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The South Korean military said the projectiles were launched from the Hodo peninsula on North Korea's east coast, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. The Joint Chiefs of Staff added that it is monitoring the situation to be prepared in the case of additional launches.

The latest launches come six days after Pyongyang fired two short-range projectiles into the East Sea.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Administration's response: A senior administration official told The Hill that "We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea and we will continue to monitor the situation."

Timing: North Korea had not launched any projectiles since May until firing the two projectiles last week.

President Trump has sought to negotiate with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un to dismantle his nuclear stockpile and roll back its missile program, though a second summit held earlier this year in Vietnam ended early without an agreement.

Trump, though, has expressed confidence in his ability to reach a deal with Kim, even making an unprecedented trip to the Demilitarized Zone last month at which the two leaders agreed to restart nuclear talks.

"It was great being with Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea this weekend. We had a great meeting, he looked really well and very healthy - I look forward to seeing him again soon," Trump tweeted earlier this month after the meeting. 

"In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!"

 

US ASKS GERMANY TO JOIN NAVAL MISSION AMID IRAN TENSIONS: The United States on Tuesday ramped up pressure on Germany to join the U.S.-led endeavor to secure a strategic shipping waterway in the Persian Gulf in the face of rising tensions between Washington and Iran.

The request, reported by Agence France-Presse, follows the United Kingdom's move last week to increase in its military presence in the region to escort UK-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz. That came after Iranian forces seized a British tanker in the strait.

"We've formally asked Germany to join France and the UK to help secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Tamara Sternberg-Greller in a statement to AFP.

"Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected... Our question is, protected by whom?"

Hesitations: Germany has been hesitant to show any military strength in the Gulf. Politicians and officials there are afraid a naval mission could escalate tensions with Iran and potentially start a conflict. Furthermore, military force is anathema to many Germans across the political spectrum due to the country's legacy of Nazism, while President Trump is widely disliked by German voters.

The background: The strain between Washington and Tehran, set off by Trump's decision last year to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and impose economic sanctions on Tehran, have created a simmering hotbed of tit-for-tat skirmishes in the Gulf.

Iran in June shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that it claimed was flying over Iranian airspace, nearly prompting a retaliatory strike from the Trump administration.

The Trump administration, in turn, then earlier this month said that it shot down an Iranian drone that was within 1,000 yards of a Navy vessel. Iran has denied one of its drones was missing.

Show of force? The U.S. now hopes it can convince ally and partner countries to join a coalition meant to monitor and police the Gulf region's waterways -- known as Operation Sentinel.

UK also wants commitments: The UK -which has had its own run ins in the region - also sought the help of Germany as well as France for a separate, British-led mission to defend shipping in the waterways, but the countries have not committed to providing naval forces, the Financial Times reported.  

The British have since said that any such a mission should include the United States.

A German foreign ministry source told AFP that Washington "recently presented its concept for a maritime surveillance mission ... to a number of allies, including Germany, and asked for contributions."

"The German government has taken note of this, but not promised to make any contribution."

They added that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has "repeatedly stressed that, in our view, the priority must be to de-escalate tensions and continue with diplomatic efforts," and that their government "can rule out participation in the American strategy of maximum pressure."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Aviation and Missile Center's director for aviation development Carvil Chalk will speak at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) International Military Helicopters USA conference at 8:50 a.m. in Alexandria, Va. 

Air Force Maj. Gen. David Krumm, director of strategic plans in the Air Force office of the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, will speak at the IDGA's concurrent International Fighter USA conference at 8:50 a.m. in Alexandria, Va.

Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on whether sanctions are working against North Korea, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Vice Adm. Michael Gilday to be chief of naval operations at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. 

Madelyn Creedon, the former principal deputy national nuclear security administrator; Mallory Stewart, the former deputy assistant defense secretary for arms control verification and compliance Frank Rose, the former assistant secretary of State for arms control verification and compliance, will hold a discussion on "Assessing Space Security: Threat and Response," at 2 p.m. at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. 

Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Director Christopher Krebs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy Robert Strayer, and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks will speak on the topic of 5G innovation and security at 2:30 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Rising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief

-- The Hill: DHS warns of cybersecurity vulnerability in small airplanes

-- The Hill: Trump hopeful nominee can 'rein in' intelligence agencies

-- The Hill: Trump sent photos of his visit to Kim Jong-Un: report

-- The Hill: Russian diplomat: US may be planning to pull out of nuclear test ban treaty

-- Defense News: Korean Fat Leonard? Feds probe new US Navy corruption case in Asia

-- Reuters: Trump billionaire friend aimed to profit from Mideast nuclear deal: Democrats

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