The Senate Armed Services Committee gave its stamp of approval to Gen. John Hyten to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff despite allegations of sexual assault against him by a subordinate, according to committee Chairman Jim Inhofe.
The committee spent weeks examining the charges against Hyten and heard privately from his accuser and him, allowing the general to rebut the charges in private and at his formal confirmation hearing Tuesday.
But on Wednesday the committee voted 20-7 to favorably report the nomination out of committee. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor is not expected until after the August recess.
Inhofe told reporters that he expects full support on the Senate floor for Hyten’s confirmation. He also defended Hyten’s record and expressed concern that “if someone can accuse someone of sexual assault without any evidence … it could happen to anyone.”
“What would happen with all these thousands of Junior Grade officers out there, you know, striving for the top? Although the likelihood is not very great they get there, but if they do, this could happen to them,” he said.
One Democratic committee member, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, complained that he has “unresolved questions,” was “deeply dissatisfied” with Hyten’s answers to queries about how the military should handle sexual assault cases and has “concerns about his judgment” and the “rushed process.”
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a survivor of sexual assault, said that she voted against sending Hyten’s nomination out of committee.
During Hyten’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Ernst said she had “concerns” about his “judgment and ability to lead in one of the highest positions in the US military” due to his handling of allegations that were made against his accuser.
Ernst noted that while Hyten was commander of STRATCOM, he was approached by several individuals within his command who raised concerns about the leadership approach of his accuser, who was serving as his subordinate at the time, but only took action once issues were raised with his own leadership.
Hyten’s accuser, Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, went public with her allegations, which were originally made just after Hyten was nominated in April, last week in The New York Times, the most serious being the assault in a hotel room where, she said, he pressed himself against her and ejaculated.
“He stood up too, pulled me to him and started kissing me on the lips and holding me tight while he pressed himself against me. After a while, maybe over a minute, he came and I pushed him away and asked him why he did that. He said he thought I would like it too,” according to a statement provided by her lawyer.
She was also present for Hyten’s hearing before the committee on Tuesday.
The US Air Force Office of Special Investigations cleared Hyten of the allegations earlier this month. “US Strategic Command fully cooperated with the investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. According to Air Force officials, there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct on the part of Gen. Hyten,” US Strategic Command spokesman Cmdr. Bill Clinton said last week.
Hyten himself strongly denied the allegations during Tuesday’s hearing, saying “these allegations are false” and pointing to the Air Force investigation, which he said “revealed the truth” that “nothing happened.”
Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who revealed earlier this year that she was raped while serving in the US Air Force, said Tuesday that the allegations of sexual assault against Hyten are unequivocally “false.”
McSally has emerged as a vocal leader on the issue of military sexual assault since coming forward in March about her own rape, and her comments set the tone for the entire hearing, which Spletstoser would ultimately condemn as a “political spectacle done at the expense of an innocent victim.”
“To be clear, this wasn’t just a jump ball … Not a situation where we just couldn’t prove what allegedly happened. I believe the truth still matters in our country. And the full truth was revealed in this process. The truth is that Gen. Hyten is innocent of these charges,” McSally said.
“Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen in this case,” she added. “I pray the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for. But it cannot be by destroying Gen. Hyten with false allegations.”
Noticeably absent from Tuesday’s proceedings were two of Hyten’s most vocal critics, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both 2020 presidential candidates who said in statements to CNN that they opposed moving forward with the confirmation process until Spletstoser is given the chance to testify publicly.
Warren and Gillibrand are participating in the CNN debates in Detroit this week. Warren took the stage Tuesday evening and Gillibrand will participate in Wednesday’s event.
Gillibrand voted “no” by proxy, according to her office.
This story has been updated.