President Donald Trump’s pick for the second-highest military job will have his chance Tuesday to publicly refute sexual assault allegations leveled against him when he takes the stand in a potentially explosive confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, nominated three months ago to serve as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced questioning in private last week from the panel’s members over the charges. Committee leadership opted to move ahead with his confirmation process anyway, although several members have expressed concerns about the allegations and the military’s investigation of them.
On Friday, after the confirmation hearing was officially announced, Hyten’s accuser went public with her story in the New York Times. Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, a former aide to Hyten, said he repeatedly made unwanted advances against her, escalating in a hotel room assault in 2017 during a defense policy conference.
She also met with committee members last week, to detail her concerns about Hyten’s nomination. Those interviews were behind closed doors, but Spletstoser told the Times afterwards she felt “a moral responsibility to come forward” after it appeared his nomination would advance.
Pentagon officials have said they investigated the claims and found “insufficient evidence” of any misconduct. They have also issued a statement calling Hyten, the current leader of U.S. Strategic Command, “a principled and dedicated patriot” with more than 38 years of military service.
But the issue of sexual assault in the ranks has been a persistent problem for the military, with the number of cases rising significantly in recent years.
Defense Department officials have said that is due to increased reporting of the crime, a sign of confidence in the system. Outside advocates have said it’s a sign that the military has made little progress in stopping the harassment.
Last week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said there are still “unanswered questions" as to how the military investigation into Hyten was handled. She said she found both the general’s and colonel’s accounts credible, and would not say how she’ll vote on the nomination.
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has been more forceful in his support of Hyten, although he did agree to a delay in the confirmation process for last week’s private interviews.
A group of about two dozen supporters of Hyten — including former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and former Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch — released a letter in recent days calling the nominee “a unique individual whose humility, great intellect, and compassion have shaped his outstanding ability to serve our nation in his many military assignments.”
They’re pushing for a vote on the nomination as soon as possible.
Just how quickly the committee will move on such a vote after the hearing remains to be seen. The Senate is scheduled to start its month-long recess later this week. Even if there are no concerns about the allegations after his testimony, it’s unclear whether Hyten’s nomination could move through the whole chamber before the break.
The confirmation hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday and will be streamed on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s web site.
Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.