Air Force Gen. John Hyten adamantly denied he sexually assaulted a former aide during his confirmation hearing for the second-highest military job Tuesday morning—and was defended by lawmakers, military officials, and even a survivor of sexual assault.
“I am intensely aware the allegations made against me concern one of the most serious problems we have in the military, sexual assault,” Hyten, who’s been nominated to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“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.”
After being nominated in April by President Donald Trump for the vice chairman post, Hyten was accused of sexually assaulting Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser in a California hotel room in December 2017. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations opened a probe into the matter, ultimately finding insufficient evidence to charge Hyten or recommend any administrative punishment.
“We just saw a four-star general lie under oath. He assaulted me,” Spletstoser told reporters on Tuesday after the over two hour hearing. She called the investigation “the illusion of process.” “This was scary as an active-duty soldier... I feel sandbagged as a victim,” she said.
On Tuesday, the current commander of U.S. Strategic Command was introduced by former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who oversaw the investigation into Hyten. While Wilson forcefully defended Hyten, she also slammed Spletstoser, who sat stoically in the first row of seating open to the public.
“After all of this, I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion I did: General Hyten was falsely accused, and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination,” Wilson said.
Wilson insisted that while Spletstoser is a “wounded soldier” who was probably the victim of sexual misconduct at some point, Hyten did not assault her.
“I accept that it’s entirely possible that his accuser is a wounded soldier who believes what she is saying is true even if it’s not,” she said, adding that Spletstoser may even erroneously believe she was assaulted by Hyten. “That possibility makes this whole situation very sad.”
Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who earlier this year revealed that she was sexually assaulted while in the military, delivered a surprising statement in support of the military officer, applauding the committee’s “exhaustive” investigation into the allegations and questioning the validity of Spletstoser’s claims.
“I believe that truth still matters, and the full truth was revealed in this process. 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,” McSally said, before apologizing to Hyten and his family.
The Arizona senator and former Air Force pilot said she didn’t come to the “conclusion lightly,” knowing the “messaging it could send to sexual assault survivors who haven’t seen all the information on the case.” But after the investigation, she said, she has full confidence in Hyten’s ability to take on the Joint Chiefs of Staff role.
“He’s the right leader at the right time for this important position, and I’m confident he’ll continue to serve in uniform of honor, humility, and integrity,” she said. “I pray the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for, but it cannot be by destroying General Hyten with these false allegations.”
According to reporters in the room, Spletstoser, who was sitting less than 10 yards behind Hyten, listened stoically during McSally’s statement.
After previously detailing her allegations anonymously in interviews, Spletstoser went public in an interview with The New York Times last week, alleging that when she was one of Hyten’s top aides, he made unwanted sexual advances during the 2017 Reagan National Defense Forum conference in Simi Valley, California.
Spletstoser alleged that after inviting himself into her hotel room, the Air Force general pulled her to him and began kissing her while he “pressed” into her body. Hyten then allegedly ejaculated, getting his semen on his sweatpants and her yoga pants, she told The New York Times. Spletstoser said she was appalled by his actions, and told him to clean himself up. After she rejected him, Hyten tried to damage her career, she claims.
The hotel incident, the senior military official said, was just one of many incidents of unwanted touching that year. Spletstoser said that while she planned on keeping quiet about the incident, she felt a “moral responsibility to come forward” after his nomination in April.
Hyten testified on Tuesday that since Spletstoser was relieved of duty from his department in 2018, she has leveled dozens of other accusations against his staff, including 24 allegations against his chief of staff and six against himself.
None of the allegations, Hyten said, were ever substantiated.
“Sadly, it has become increasingly common in DC for people to try to destroy each other for their own political benefit or some other selfish purpose—with no regard for the truth, or the lives damaged in the process,” McSally said on Tuesday, seemingly slamming Spletstoser.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the committee said at the start of the hearing that a panel was created to address the allegations and it held five executive sessions. Both Spletstoser and Hyten testified privately last week before the committee.
“This committee takes allegations of sexual assault very seriously. It is unacceptable that this committee will not act on unproven allegations, allegations that do not withstand the close scrutiny of the committee's process,” Inhofe said.
Air Force officials previously confirmed investigators went through 10,000 pages of documents and conducted interviews with over 50 people before concluding no evidence supported Spletstoser’s allegations.
Investigators, however, also said they found no evidence that she was lying.
Hyten was later questioned by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) about whether he would remove an officer accused of sexual misconduct, to which he replied: “I would not take any action unless the information was corroborated because I think that presumes guilt. But I would take action to remove an individual if they were in the same office space, temporarily.”