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Senate Armed Services Committee Considers Gen. John Hyten For Pentagon Position


The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering whether a four-star Air Force general should be the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That's the second highest-ranking officer in the military. But General John Hyten faces allegations of sexual assault from a former top aide. He denied the accusations under oath. The officer who made them, Army Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser, sat at the back of the room. She was not invited to speak. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Right from the start of today's hearing on whether General Hyten should be promoted to the Pentagon's second-highest uniformed post, James Inhofe, the Republican who chairs the Armed Services panel, made clear he'd already made up his mind.


JAMES INHOFE: But this committee will not act on unproven allegations, allegations that do not withstand the close scrutiny of the committee's process.

WELNA: Inhofe scornfully referred to reports of the allegations against Hyten being, as he put it, bandied about in the press with little regard to the truth. Next up was former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who oversaw an internal investigation of the charges against Hyten before she left the Pentagon.


HEATHER WILSON: I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion I did: General Hyten was falsely accused.

WELNA: Wilson implied Hyten's accuser, who's a combat veteran, was delusional.


WILSON: 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's not.

WELNA: Then it was General Hyten's turn to testify. First, though, he introduced Laura, his wife of nearly 32 years.


JOHN HYTEN: She is an amazing woman, the best person I know.

WELNA: As for the charges against him, Hyten categorically denied them.


HYTEN: It has been a painful time for me and my family. But I want to state to you and to the American people, in the strongest possible terms, that these allegations are false.

WELNA: Those claims of innocence were contradicted by Hyten's accuser, who went public last week and was at the hearing. When it was over, Army Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser told reporters...


KATHRYN SPLETSTOSER: Everything that I stated in that investigation was, in fact, corroborated, less the specific sex acts, which there were only two people. And I stated up front - this will be a classic "he said, she said" unless you get some additional stuff. Everything I said that would be corroborated was.

WELNA: Republicans on the panel mostly sided with the accused general. They cited the Air Force investigation that cleared him after scores of interviews and reviews of some 200,000 emails as well as travel records. Arizona's Martha McSally, a former fighter jet pilot who revealed in March that she'd been raped by a senior officer, is one of those Republicans.


MARTHA MCSALLY: This wasn't just a jump ball, not a "he said, she said," not a situation where we just couldn't prove what allegedly happened.

WELNA: Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked Hyten directly about a New York Times report last week that said...


JOSH HAWLEY: You came to her room and sexually assaulted her. On that specific allegation, December 2, 2017, did that incident happen, General?

HYTEN: That didn't - that never happened...

HAWLEY: Were - did you go to her room that night?

HYTEN: I've never been to her room, Senator.

WELNA: Iowa Republican Joni Ernst did not sound as if she'd been won over.


JONI ERNST: The facts have left me with concerns regarding your judgment, leadership and fitness to serve as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

WELNA: And like some other Democrats on the panel, Hawaii's Mazie Hirono was not willing to exonerate Hyten.


MAZIE HIRONO: The allegations against you are serious. And while we have not been presented with any corroborating evidence, the lack of it does not necessarily mean that the accusations are untrue.

WELNA: Hirono said later that Hyten left so many questions unanswered, no vote should be held on his nomination this week.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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