McSally, Wilson — Hyten Innocent, Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault

McSally, Wilson — Hyten Innocent, Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today that, after reviewing the evidence, they are convinced Gen. John Hyten is innocent of charges of sexual assault and was falsely accused. SASC held a hearing today on Hyten’s nomination to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  A former subordinate, Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, leveled the charges against him a few months ago.  Not all SASC members appeared as certain as McSally, but overall Hyten seems on track to be approved by the committee.

Hyten is currently Commander of U.S. Strategic Command in charge of the U.S. nuclear deterrent — missiles, aircraft and submarines equipped with nuclear weapons.  Previously he was Commander of Air Force Space Command and is very well known in the space community.

His nomination was headed toward easy approval until Spletstoser accused him of repeated instances of sexual harassment and, on December 2, 2017, assault.  She says she did not report it at the time, but when he was nominated for this new position decided it was her moral responsibility to file charges.

Wilson was Secretary of the Air Force at the time and directed the Office of Special Investigations to investigate.  She resigned from the government at the end of May and is now President of the University of Texas-El Paso.  Today, however, she appeared at the witness table seated next to Hyten to open the hearing with a summary of that investigation: a team of 53 investigators interviewed 63 people, reviewed 196,000 emails, 4,000 page of documents, 152 travel records and portions of phone records dating back to 2015, resulting in a 1,400 page final report.  From all of that, she concluded Hyten was falsely accused.

Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testifying to Senate Armed Services Committee, July 30, 2019. Screengrab.

“I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion that I did. Gen. Hyten was falsely accused and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination.

“I accept that it is entirely possible that his accuser is a wounded soldier who believes what she is saying is true, even if it is not. That possibility makes this whole situation very sad.”

SASC has been reviewing the matter for the past three weeks.  It held five closed executive sessions last week, hearing from Hyten, Spletstoser and others. Today, two Republican Senators, including SASC chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), yielded all or most of their time to McSally because she had spent almost full time looking into these allegations.

McSally, a retired Air Force Colonel, was the first American woman to fly in combat (an A-10 Warthog).  Earlier this year during a SASC hearing on sexual assault in the military, she revealed that she had been raped by a superior officer while at the Air Force Academy.  She has become a voice for victims of sexual assault in the military ever since.

Today she said she never imagined she would be in this position. Saying she “will always support working out these issues through due process and not in the court of public opinion,” she asserted that she has full confidence in Hyten and he is innocent of the charges.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) speaking at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, July 30, 2019.

“To be clear, this wasn’t a jump ball.  This wasn’t a he-said, she-said. Not a situation where we just couldn’t prove what allegedly happened. I, too, believe that truth still matters in this country 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.”

Not everyone sounded as convinced as McSally. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a combat-disabled retired Army Lt. Col., pointed to the fact that not all of Hyten’s text messages, or Spletstoser’s, could be reviewed because their phones had been wiped at one point in an upgrade process.  Hyten said he had not been aware of that until he read the investigative report last week. Spletstoser is one of Duckworth’s constituents.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) commented that “while we have not been presented with any corroborating evidence, the lack of it does not necessarily mean the accusations aren’t true.”

Spletstoser has been giving interviews to the media since Friday to present her case and allowing them to use her name.  She told the New York Times that while she and Hyten were attending a conference in December 2017, he came to her hotel room, pressed himself against her, kissed her, “then ejaculated, getting semen on his sweatpants and on her yoga pants.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asked Hyten about “physical evidence” that might have been subject to DNA testing by investigators.  Hyten said he had to give them a DNA sample “and I know there was nothing found.”  He also told Hawley that “I’ve never been to her room. … Never, Sir. .. On any trip, ever…”

Spletstoser attended today’s hearing and told reporters afterwards that Hyten lied to the committee.  She asserted Wilson may not have been aware of supplemental information added to the investigation after she left, including that Hyten “did not pass a polygraph when confronted with the sexual assault allegations” and later refused to answer any further questions or otherwise cooperate with the investigation.  She criticized the investigation for focusing on her, the victim, and not Hyten, and asserted many emails, both classified and unclassified, were not reviewed.  “What we saw in there today was a political spectacle done at the expense of an innocent victim who has never lied about anything, who has a perfect and unblemished record, and whom Gen. Hyten himself stated in the evaluation he gave me, my ethics and integrity are above reproach. Can’t say the same about him.” She found Wilson’s comment that she might be a wounded soldier who believed what she was saying even though it was not true to be “disrespectful.” Her message to Senators is that Hyten is not qualified to be the second highest-ranking military officer because he lacks the “ability to lead as a 4-star.”

There was no disagreement during the hearing about the “scourge” of sexual assault in the military.  Several members wanted to know what Hyten would do about it if he is confirmed.  He insisted it must be dealt with by the services and he does not have the answers.  Despite the many efforts that have been tried, the number of reported assaults keeps going up, but he committed to working to find the right people to find solutions.  His vague answers on this topic concerned some of the committee members.

About half of the hearing dealt with the sexual assault issue, but there were also many questions about  Hyten’s views on the National Defense Strategy, the greatest threats to the United States today, and other topics for which he will be responsible if confirmed.  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) asked about the Space Force.  Hyten agreed that the Space Force must be under the Air Force, not a separate department, and “we’re in a very good place” with the legislation currently working its way through Congress.

Note:  this article has been updated with the comments to reporters by Spletstoser as broadcast on MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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