The nomination of Gen. John Hyten to be the second-highest ranking uniformed military officer appears likely to move forward after the general strongly denied allegations of sexual misconduct.
Gen. Hyten, who would be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing that dealing with the accusations has been a “painful time” for his family, but insisted, “Nothing happened, ever.”
Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that a senior military officer accused the Air Force general of sexual misconduct prompting several investigations, including a military and a Senate inquiry, but investigators did not find enough evidence to bring charges.
Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, has said she felt a “moral responsibility” to come forward with the allegations after she said the general kissed her and pressed himself against her when they were alone in a hotel room.
Gen. Hyten, who is responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal as the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has repeatedly denied the allegations and continued to maintain his innocence before the Senate panel.
When asked about Col. Spletstoser’s performance under Gen. Hyten’s command, he responded she had “up and downs in her background.” Upon his answer, she was heard whispering “Really?!” as she listened to his testimony from the front row of the audience.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Col. Spletstoser, who still serves as an active duty Army officer, insisted her account is valid.
“You just had a four-star general get up in front of the American people and in open testimony and make false official statements under oath. The bottom line is, he lied about sexually assaulting me,” she told reporters after the hearing.
The explosive charges divided the committee, with some expressing strong belief in his denials and other senators expressing hesitation about the nominee.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, said that while she has not seen proof to disqualify him, the “lack of evidence does not mean it’s not true.”
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst questioned Gen. Hyten’s leadership and said some of the findings from the investigation “left me with concerns regarding your judgment, leadership and fitness to serve as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
But a majority of the panel appeared to have concluded there is not enough evidence to disqualify the four-star general.
Significantly, Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican who revealed earlier this year that she was a victim of sexual assault when she was an officer in the Air Force, said, “The truth is that Gen. Hyten is innocent of these charges. Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen in this case.”
She told the panel that she hopes “the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for, but it cannot be by destroying Gen. Hyten with these false allegations.”
Sexual misconduct in the military has become a rising issue after a Pentagon report earlier this year found that instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in the armed forces increased by about 38% from 2016 to 2018.
Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said the Senate panel spent more than three hours sifting through the evidence for and against Gen. Hyten.
He said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that while he is not yet ready to make a decision on Gen. Hyten’s nomination, “This is the most careful vetting on any personnel question we’ve had” in his seven years on the committee.
Although a vote has not yet been scheduled on Gen. Hyten’s nomination, a committee aide said several members need more time to vet President Trump’s pick. It’s unclear if the full Senate can take up the nomination before adjourning at the end of the week for the month-long August recess.