Earlier this year, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally shared her story of being sexually assault by a fellow member of the armed forces. On Tuesday, McSally said before the Senate Armed Services Committee that she stands by a top Air Force official accused of sexual assault.
Speaking at today’s confirmation hearing for Air Force Gen. John Hyten, whom President Donald Trump nominated to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McSally called the allegations made against Hyten by Army Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser “false” and declared Hyten “innocent of these charges.”
“Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen in this case,” McSally said. “I pray the accuser gets the help she needs...But it cannot be by destroying Gen. Hyten with these false allegations.”
In April, after Trump nominated Hyten, Spletstoser reported a confrontation with Hyten, her former boss, prompting an Air Force investigation. She alleged that Hyten repeatedly “tried to kiss her, hug her and touch her inappropriately while in her office or on trips” in 2017, according to the New York Times. On Friday, after Spletstoser testified in a closed Senate committee session about the allegations last week, she came forward as Hyten’s accuser in the New York Times. Spletstoser alleged to the Times that Hyten’s behavior included this event in December 2017:
Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser of the Army says she had returned to her hotel room and was putting on face cream on the night of Dec. 2, 2017, after a full day at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California, when her boss, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the commander of United States Strategic Command, knocked on her door and said he wanted to talk to her.
According to her account, General Hyten reached for her hand. She became alarmed, and stood back up. He stood up too, she said, and pulled her to him and kissed her on the lips while pressing himself against her, then ejaculated, getting semen on his sweatpants and on her yoga pants.
The Pentagon told Politico that an investigation into Spletstoser’s claims “determined there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct against General Hyten.”
McSally said Tuesday that she spent three weeks focused solely on Spletstoser’s allegations. However, given the information she reviewed, she said, “As a result of the exhaustive process and extreme due diligence, I have full confidence in Gen. Hyten’s ability to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“To be clear, 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,” McSally said.
Sharing her own account of sexual assault in March, McSally said that she stayed silent for years before feeling she had to come forward in response to the military’s sweeping mishandling of other assault allegations. When she did try to report her assault, she said she was “horrified” at the response, and “like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
Speaking to Politico on Monday, Spletstoser shared a similar message, saying that she felt that the Senate committee would be sending a troubling message to survivors and military officials should it confirm Hyten.
“If he’s actually confirmed as vice chairman, it tells every general officer or flag officer that they’re above the law, that victims do not matter...You will not have victims coming forward when justice doesn’t get served. We have a horrible track record on this anyway” as a military, she told the publication.