Senate Armed Services hears from Hyten's accuser

Nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused of sexual misconduct

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who sits on the committee, told reporters that Hyten’s accuser testified in a closed-door meeting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony Tuesday from the military officer who has accused Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of sexual misconduct, two Democratic senators said.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who sits on the committee, told reporters that Hyten’s accuser testified in a closed-door meeting.

“I found her very believable,” Duckworth told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I do think it becomes a he-said, she-said kind of a situation, but I have some questions after listening to her testimony where I’m going to try to follow up and seek some clarification.”

[Esper approval likely, but sexual assault allegations slow Joint Chiefs vice chair pick]

Hyten’s accuser, who is one of Duckworth’s constituents, said Hyten kissed and touched her on nine occasions between February 2017 and February 2018. She also has alleged that the four-star general tried to harm her career after she rebuffed his advances.

A Pentagon probe of the allegations cleared Hyten of wrongdoing, but some Democrats on Armed Services weren’t satisfied with the Defense Department’s process and requested additional information from Hyten.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democratic presidential candidate who serves on the Armed Services Committee, told CQ Roll Call last week that she would not support even giving Hyten a vote.

Hawaii Democrat and Armed Services Committee member Mazie K. Hirono told CQ Roll Call that the committee is scheduled to hear from Hyten directly on Thursday.

“I’m glad that the committee is going to have a chance to hear directly from the two witnesses,” Hirono said. “It’s a good thing that we’re hearing from both of them.”

Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe told CQ Roll Call that the committee will have another briefing on the Hyten nomination before Friday but did not provide further detail.

The accusations against Hyten come as the military continues to struggle with sexual assaults and retribution within its ranks, and Congress debates how best to address the continuing epidemic.

Lawmakers for years included provisions to combat military sexual assault in the annual defense authorization bill, but the military continues to grapple with the problem within its ranks. The Pentagon’s most recent statistics indicate a sharp rise in sexual assaults — from 14,900 in 2016 to 20,500 in 2018.

Meanwhile, some members of the committee are weighing how to treat allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against public figures.

Duckworth, for example, told The New Yorker magazine that she regrets how the Democrats pressured former Sen. Al Franken to resign without giving Franken official recourse after multiple women accused the Minnesota Democrat of sexual misconduct.

Regarding the pressure Senate Democrats put on Franken to resign, Duckworth told the magazine, “That due process didn’t happen is not good for our democracy.”

Another Armed Services member, Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and pushed for Franken’s January 2018 resignation, told the magazine that Franken deserved “more of a process.”

To earn Democratic support, Hyten will likely have to provide strong evidence that he is, in fact, innocent of the accusations leveled against him.

“It’s going to be up to the chairman, how he wants to move forward,” Duckworth said when asked how the committee should handle the nomination if questions persist after the meeting with Hyten. “There are many other officers who can do this job.”

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