General's Senate hearing will air sex misconduct charges

July 29, 2019 - 11:29 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force general nominated to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is going before the Senate Armed Services Committee amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

The hearing Tuesday morning will be the first time that senators will publicly question Gen. John Hyten about the charges brought by his former aide, Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser. Hyten and Spletstoser met separately with senators in classified sessions last week.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations reviewed the matter and found insufficient evidence to charge Hyten or recommend any administrative punishment.

Spletstoser told The Associated Press that Hyten subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his top aides. She said she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop, and that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.

She said she didn't report the incidents at the time to avoid embarrassment, and out of fear of retaliation. She was also thinking about retiring, and believed Hyten was as well, so she concluded that he would not pose a risk to any other service members.

Spletstoser said she came forward earlier this year after Hyten's nomination, because she couldn't live with the idea that he might assault someone else if he was confirmed for the job.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the committee, said last week that he was hopeful of moving forward with a vote in the committee possibly before the Senate's August recess.

Other senators, however, have raised questions, stalling Hyten's nomination for months and making it unclear if he has enough support to be confirmed. Hyten is head of U.S. Strategic Command, and oversees the nation's nuclear capabilities.

The AP first reported about Spletstoser's allegations earlier this month. The AP generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Spletstoser has allowed her name to be used. She is still in the military and has moved on to a different job.

Air Force officials have said that investigators went through 10,000 pages of documents, conducted interviews with as many as 50 people and pursued every lead but did not uncover evidence to support Spletstoser's allegations. But they also said they found no evidence that she was lying.

Senators are in a difficult spot. They have consistently criticized the Defense Department over its long and, at times, unsuccessful campaign to decrease the instances of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment across the military. And lawmakers have criticized the department's handling of assault cases and tried repeatedly to overhaul what some say is a broken system.

Still, some senators were making up their minds. The committee was planning to meet again in closed session early Tuesday ahead of the public hearing, members said.

"All the evidence supports that he should be confirmed," said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. He called Hyten "a solid candidate. Every indication is that he's earned the right to move on and be confirmed."

GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was "leaning toward" supporting Hyten, but continuing to evaluate the situation.

But Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he would "have trouble" confirming the nominee. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she was waiting to hear from the general in the public setting.

Late last week, more than two dozen former defense officials wrote to committee leaders urging them to fully consider Hyten's nomination and allow a vote on the Senate floor.

"We do not present any judgment on the investigation; we do, however, write on behalf of the exemplary officer that we have known and with whom we have worked," they said. "We believe that our nation would greatly benefit if Gen. John Hyten were to be confirmed as Vice Chairman."

The group sending the letter includes a number of former executives at the national laboratories that work on nuclear issues and projects.

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