WASHINGTON — Confirmation for President Donald Trump’s nominee for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was set to move forward after lawmakers interviewed him in private on Thursday, according to a top lawmaker.
The nominee, U.S. Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten, offered testimony to defend himself before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a Senate secure facility all morning. On Tuesday, his accuser, a former subordinate of Hyten’s, answered lawmaker questions about her allegations in a closed hearing.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told reporters as he exited the hearing that he planned to announce Thursday afternoon that the panel will hold an open confirmation hearing for Hyten. Inhofe declined to say whether he would vote for Hyten or what he thought of his testimony.
Strategic Command spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Clinton told reporters Thursday outside the hearing that, “Gen. Hyten thanks Chairman Inhofe for this opportunity to tell his side of the story.” Clinton declined to comment further.
The accuser, a constituent of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is reportedly an Army colonel with 28 years of service. Duckworth has called the accuser “very believable” and said Thursday that Hyten’s testimony, too, had been credible, but she continued to question the fairness of an Air Force probe that cleared Hyten.
“It’s a really tragic situation, and very emotional,” Duckworth said. “[Hyten] is a four-star general, and he has served his country well, but there are still unanswered questions that neither he nor his accuser can answer, and that has to do with how [the Defense Department] handled this case."
Hyten, a decorated officer with 38 years of service, is the head of the unified command responsible for the America’ nuclear strike capabilities.
Duckworth declined to say whether she would vote for Hyten, adding that she would press the Pentagon for more information about the probe. She has questioned whether the Defense Department provided Hyten with preferential treatment, as he wasn’t suspended during the investigation and the probe was conducted by the four-star chief of Air Combat Command, who is technically junior to Hyten.
The case is important in the context of the military’s broader sexual assault problems and Hyten’s potential role.
“This is a very serious matter, the accusations are very serious, and the position he is about to take — in charge of our entire nuclear fleet — is very serious,” Duckworth said. “We’re taking this step-by-step and being as thorough as we can on both sides of the aisle.”
Hyten’s accuser 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 aides. She said that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.
After she came forward in April, Air Force investigators found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Hyten or to recommend administrative actions.
Duckworth, who has been more outspoken than other SASC members about the closed-door proceedings, thanked Hyten for testifying and said the panel’s leadership had been working in a bipartisan fashion.
“We’re working across the aisle, every day I’ve had conversations about this,” she said.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.