Two Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee are raising concerns about the US Air Force’s investigation clearing four-star General John Hyten, President Donald Trump’s nominee to become vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, of allegations of sexual misconduct.
While CNN reported this week that no evidence or information had been found to substantiate nine allegations made against Hyten by a junior female officer, Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is also a 2020 presidential candidate, have raised questions about whether the probe was handled properly.
“While I think the investigation was done in a very professional way, I’m concerned that Gen. Hyten might have received preferential treatment. Unlike other military officers who have received similar allegations, he was allowed to stay in his position whereas other folks have actually been suspended from their duties while an investigation was ongoing – and then reinstated if they were cleared – but that’s not what happened here,” Duckworth told CNN.
She also said Hyten’s accuser should be given the chance to speak with committee members if she chooses.
“Whenever you have an allegation of sexual misconduct, especially in the military, the victim should be empowered and deserves to be heard. So if she wants to talk to the Committee, she should be given that opportunity and Senators should make themselves available to listen to her. But that’s up to her whether she wants to do that and whether she wants it to happen publicly or behind closed doors,” Duckworth said.
Gillibrand, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, sent a letter Friday to acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper calling on him to personally review the case, provide the investigation file in the most unredacted form possible to the survivor, and afford her the opportunity to communicate to him directly about the case disposition.
“I am very troubled by the apparent mishandling of the sexual assault allegations against General John E. Hyten both over the fairness of the process in this case and what it indicates for the broader need for military justice reform,” Gillibrand wrote. “While I do not seek to influence the decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, I write to raise grave concerns with the process in this case because I do not believe that it contributes to good order and discipline and morale in our military.
“As Pentagon leadership continues to publicly underscore that it is doing all it can to counter the sexual assault problem in the military, I ask that your office sets the best example. Your office and other DoD senior leaders need to show that sexual assault allegations against the most senior officials will be treated the same as when junior enlisted members are accused of similar felony-level crimes,” she added.
The allegations against Hyten were made in April shortly after he was nominated to be the President’s second most senior military adviser.
The Pentagon issued a statement this week saying: “After a comprehensive investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct on the part of General Hyten. General Hyten has cooperated with the investigation. With more than 38 years of service to our nation General Hyten has proven himself to be a principled and dedicated patriot.”
CNN has not been able to speak to the officer who made the allegations against Hyten.
Questions have been raised about why a confirmation hearing for Hyten had not yet been scheduled, three months after he was nominated for the role.
Hyten, who would take over from Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, is currently the head of US Strategic Command, which is critical in monitoring nuclear testing and missile launches around the world and advising the President, if needed, on nuclear launch options for the US.
Officials tell CNN the allegations have caused dismay among dozens of officers who are uncertain if the administration will still support Hyten’s nomination. There also questions over whether Hyten will want to proceed with a public confirmation hearing that may discuss the allegations even though the military has cleared him.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne contributed reporting