His previously uncontroversial nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs was thrown into question after a former subordinate accused him of sexual assault.
The stalled nomination of a general tapped to become the U.S. military’s No. 2 officer will move ahead on Tuesday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a confirmation hearing for Gen. John Hyten, committee staff said in a Thursday statement.
The previously uncontroversial nomination of the commander of U.S. Strategic Command was thrown into question by an allegation of sexual assault by a senior military officer who was working for Hyten at the time. Hyten was cleared by “a comprehensive investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations,” according to the Pentagon, but some committee lawmakers have continued to raise questions about the alleged incident, which took place sometime between late 2017 and early 2018.
The hearing is set for 10 a.m. on July 30. The nomination hearing for Vice Admiral Michael M. Gilday, to be admiral and Chief of Naval Operations, has been bumped to July 31 at 9:30 a.m.
Lawmakers have now heard from both the accuser — a colonel from a different military branch than Hyten who appeared behind closed doors on Tuesday — and Hyten himself, on Thursday.
“She is very believable. He is also very impressive,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a combat veteran who has raised questions about the handling of the investigation into Hyten, suggesting that he received preferential treatment from the Defense Department because of his pending nomination.
“I have concerns that the Department of Defense has not treated him in the same way that they’ve treated other offices who have been under these kinds of allegations and...they have not adequately answered my questions as to why that happened,” Duckworth said Thursday. “I do think we need to have those questions answered before we can cast an informed vote. If that has to be a ‘no’ vote, it’s not because I don’t trust in his ability to do his job, but because this situation has not been resolved.”
But for now, there is no formal hold placed on Hyten’s nomination, according to multiple lawmakers.
“People may have to make their decision about voting [based on the allegations], but whether there will be a hearing on the nomination, I believe there will be,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
President Trump nominated Hyten to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs on April 9. He would replace Gen. Paul Selva, who must step down from his four-year appointment on July 31.
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs typically oversees the weapons development, acquisition and budget, while the chairman focuses on military operations around diplomatic engagements with foreign militaries.
The allegation has threatened to thrust the Pentagon into the fraught political debate over how to handle allegations of sexual violence. The dramatic testimony of Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, was a searing national spectacle that came close to sinking Kavanaugh’s nomination. Conservatives have since derided the allegations as trumped-up or outright fabricated, while Democrats have argued that president is deliberately ignoring sexual violence in his senior officials.
Armed Services Committee lawmakers are already grappling over how the military adjudicates sexual assault cases. Some—like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.—advocate removing such cases from the chain of command to prevent conflicts of interest. Others, like Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., an Air Force veteran and a sexual assault survivor, believe that keeping such cases within the chain of command ensures accountability.
Hyten’s case was investigated by Gen. James Holmes, who declined to press charges or proceed with any administrative action.
Holmes — like Hyten — is one of only a dozen Air Force four-star generals.