The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing to consider the nomination of Gen. John Hyten, commander of the Strategic Command, to be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His confirmation, however, has met with some controversy over allegations of sexual assault by a female officer.
The woman, who is a senior military officer, alleges that Hyten made unwanted sexual advances toward her in 2017 when she was one of his aides, and she has accused him of trying to damage her career after she rejected him. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations reviewed the matter and found insufficient evidence to charge Hyten or recommend any administrative punishment.
The accuser, Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, told the Associated Press that 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, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the committee, said last week that he hoped to move forward with a vote in the committee possibly before the Senate leaves for the August recess.
Other senators, however, have raised questions, stalling Hyten's nomination for months and making it unclear whether he has enough support to be confirmed. Hyten is head of U.S. Strategic Command, and oversees the nation's nuclear capabilities.
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 the Spletstoser's allegations. But they also said they found no evidence that she was lying.
But during Tuesday's hearing, Senator Martha McSally, a sexual assault survivor herself, delivered a compelling statement saying that as a result of the committee's "exhaustive" investigation, she has full confidence in Gen. Hyten's ability in 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.
McSally, who, said that while she didn't take the allegations against the military chief lightly, she said she has and "always will support serious issues" like sexual assault "being worked out through thorough and due process and not in the court of public opinion."
"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 added.
Gen. Hyten at the outset of the hearing, also categorically denied the allegations against him, calling the process a "painful time for me and my family." He testified that since Spletstoser was relieved of duty from his department, she leveled 34 other accusations against his staff, including 24 allegations against his chief of staff and 6 against Gen. Hyten himself. None of which, Hyten testified, were ever substantiated.
"I want to state to you and to the American people in the strongest possible terms that these allegations are false…nothing happened ever," he said.