Gen. John Hyten denies sexual assault allegations at confirmation hearing

Hyten is nominated to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

July 30, 2019, 3:41 PM

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the nominee to be the nation's second highest ranking military officer denied sexual assault allegations at his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

"These allegations are false, nothing happened ever," Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee at the hearing to consider his nomination to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The allegations had been made by Army Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser, a former key aide for Hyten at U.S. Strategic Command, where he is in charge of the U.S. military's nuclear arsenal.

Last week, Spletstoser detailed her sexual assault allegations in a New York Times interview where she claimed that in 2017 Hyten came to her hotel room and "pulled her to him and kissed her on the lips while pressing himself against her," and ejaculated. The two were alone, according to Spletstoser.

"I've never been to her room … on any trip ever," Hyten told the committee.

"I did not lie," Spletstoser told ABC News in an interview following the hearing. "I was sexually assaulted by General Hyten."

"I'm not lying, I haven't lied now, I won't lie later," she said.

Though senators did question the veracity of Spletstoser's claims, there are no indications they intend to accuse her of perjury.

PHOTO: General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 11, 2019.
General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., April 11, 2019.
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The committee proceeded with Hyten's confirmation hearing on Tuesday after it held five closed hearings and interviewed more than 50 witnesses and staff to look into Spletstoser's allegations.

Spletstoser stepped forward with her allegations in April after President Donald Trump nominated Hyten to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Air Force's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) investigated the allegations of abusive sexual contact but concluded investigators could not substantiate them.

Abusive sexual contact is described as unwanted hugging, kissing or inappropriate touching above the uniform and could be prosecuted as a crime under the code of Military Justice. If proven, the allegations could have additionally exposed Hyten, who is married, to charges of adultery, also considered a crime in the military.

In early July, Gen. James "Mike" Holmes, the commander of the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command, who was assigned as the convening authority in the matter, reviewed the OSI's report and did not recommend any action.

Holmes was selected to review the case because he is Hyten's peer in rank and not directly in Hyten's chain of command. However, Speletstoser and other some senators have questioned whether Holmes could be the most effective investigator given he is technically a more junior four-star than Hyten.

PHOTO: Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, left, and Gen. John Hyten appear before a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019.
Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, left, and Gen. John Hyten appear before a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019.
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

"I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion I did," said Heather Wilson, the former secretary of the Air Force, who introduced Hyten at the hearing.

"Gen. Hyten was falsely accused, and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination," Wilson said.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who has publicly spoken about her own experience with sexual assault while serving in the Air Force, gave Hyten a strong endorsement. She said her three-week review of the allegations against Hyten have led her to conclude he is innocent.

"As a result of the exhaustive process and extreme due diligence," said McSally, "I have full confidence in Gen. Hyten's ability to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

PHOTO: Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, for the confirmation hearing of Gen. John Hyten to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Sen. Martha McSally, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, for the confirmation hearing of Gen. John Hyten to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

"To be clear, this wasn't just a jump ball. Not a 'he said she said.' Not a situation where we just couldn't prove what allegedly happened," she said. "I believe the truth still matters in our country, and the full truth was revealed in this process. The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges. Sexual assault happens in the military; it just didn't happen in this case."

Spletstoser alleged Hyten assaulted her when he came to her hotel room and they were alone.

Spletstoser told ABC News she was "appalled" and "disappointed" by McSally's statement.

"She's the one that made the famous statement that you get raped by the system," said Spletstoser. "Thanks, Sen. McSally."

The Army colonel suggested her experience could have an impact on victims stepping forward, saying, "It basically tells sexual assault survivors: ‘Don't bother reporting, you won't be taken seriously, and we'll give your attacker a promotion.'"

Spletstoser was removed from her position at U.S. Strategic Command after an investigation in early 2018 determined she had engaged in a toxic leadership style with her subordinate staff. She is still on active duty working in the Washington, D.C., area at a defense agency.

Senators from both sides of the aisle took issue with how long Hyten took to respond to allegations that Spletstoser had created a toxic environment with her staff.

"This leaves with me with concerns about your judgment and willingness to lead," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Hyten acknowledged that while he did not recognize her toxic leadership for "a significant period of time," he ultimately did remove her following an Army investigation that validated the claims against her.

PHOTO: Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who has accused Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, of sexual assault, is seen during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Dirksen Building.
Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who has accused Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, of sexual assault, is seen during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Dirksen Building, July 30, 2019.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc./AP Photo

Following her removal, Hyten told the committee Spletstoser filed multiple accusations, of a non-sexual nature, against him, as well as more than a dozen against other senior Strategic Command leaders. None of those accusations were corroborated, he said.

Last week, Spletstoser went public in interviews with The New York Times and the Washington Post and detailed some of the incidents where she alleged Hyten sexually assaulted her.

She told the Washington Post she did not step forward at the time of the incidents because "she could not figure out 'how do you report that on a four-star' without having her life 'wrecked on a certain level.'" She also told the Post that she remained silent after leaving Hyten's command in early 2018 because she assumed he would retire and because her replacement was a man.

She said she made the allegations after Hyten's nomination "because he's going to be in for another four years and he could do this to somebody else."

Spletstoser attended Tuesday's hearing sitting in public seating in the hearing room after the committee declined her request to testify.

While Hyten received a strong endorsement from McSally, a spokesman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, issued a statement opposing his nomination and said the committee "shouldn't be rushing this nomination through today given the disturbing allegations and the concerns about the process in this case."

Gillibrand is known on the committee as a vocal advocate in combating sexual assault in the military, but she did not attend Tuesday's hearing as she prepared to participate in Wednesday night's debates for Democratic presidential candidates.

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