General’s Sexual Assault Accuser Was Deemed a ‘Toxic, Self-Centered Abuser,’ New Docs Reveal

By Marcus Weisgerber and Kevin Baron

August 16, 2019

U.S. military officials on Friday released hundreds of pages of documents, some previously unreported on, containing the results of two separate investigations that provide a fuller picture of the sexual-assault allegations made in April against Air Force Gen. John Hyten and of his accuser. 

Most notably, they paint Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser as a “toxic” leader who, more than one year before she accused Hyten of sexual assault, had bullied her coworkers and subordinates; displayed unprofessional, unethical, and unbecoming behavior for a senior officer; and “left a trail of bodies in her wake.” 

Her lack of self-awareness is shockingly profound,” wrote the Army one-star general who investigated multiple allegations into Spletstoser’s behavior in early 2018. 

The documents were released in two batches. The first was a 59-page summary, drawn up in June, of the Air Force’s 1,350 pages of exhibits still being reviewed for potential public release. In the summary, officials indicated they could not determine whether Hyten sexually assaulted Spletstoser.

Hyten is commander of U.S. Strategic Command, or STRATCOM, which controls the military’s nuclear arsenal, and the president’s nominee to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — a position that directly advises the White House and is the second-highest ranking officer in the military.

In the second batch, STRATCOM officials posted a 230-page summary of the AR-15 investigation in January and February 2018 of Spletstoser, the former head of Hyten’s “commander’s action group,” or CAG, an office of internal advisors. A STRATCOM spokesman said they posted the review in response to numerous recent Freedom of Information Act requests. According to that review, Spletstoser was hired to clean up the group, which she said had “disrespected” STRATCOM’s previous commander, retired Adm. Cecil Haney. Some of her coworkers told the investigator she was a bright and knowledgeable leader for the job, but had a micromanaging style that was so harsh, and at times allegedly unethical, that her office turned against her. 

Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Bowen, who conducted the 2018 investigation, found that “Col. Spletstoser has displayed a pattern of behavior that is consistent with being both an ‘insensitive driven achiever’ and a ‘toxic self-centered abuser,’” two of five characteristics defined in Army regulations. Bowen wrote that Spletstoser’s “demeaning and disrespectful approach” caused friction in the organization and “left a trail of bodies in her wake,” as she tried to improve morale after taking over several months earlier. Spletstoser denied any bullying.

The preponderance of evidence does not support her conclusion,” Bowen wrote, citing 10 witnesses of current and past officers in the CAG. Four additional witnesses said they did not witness her bully anyone, but said her “tone and harshness of these public outbursts were beyond what is and should be expected from a senior military officer.”

Spletstoser also previously had been “verbally counseled about her vulgarity” — using curse words — but two witnesses said she continued to employ “common profanity, public beratings, and backstabbing.” 

She publicly demeans her subordinates and others, often personally attacking them for their perceived shortcomings,” Bowen wrote. “One witness quoted her as saying: ‘What the [expletive] do you do all [expletive] day…It’s not like you are [expletive] working. Don’t give me some hot-mess [expletive]…agenda either, this is staff work 101. Jesus Christ, none of you know what you are doing. You can’t accomplish basic [expletive], the most basic [expletive] tasks.’”

Witnesses in Bowen’s report also claimed that “Spletstoser would take credit for the original thinking of others by stripping their names off of emails and sending ideas to [Hyten] as if they were her own.” They also claimed she was “obsessed” with Hyten’s travel details to the point of assigning seats in motorcades. 

Bowen wrote that Spletstoser, in interviews, denied most of the claims made against her despite overwhelming evidence and testimony. “Her lack of self-awareness is shockingly profound.” 

In July, Defense One reported that in early April, shortly after Hyten was nominated for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force received Spletstoser’s claim that the general sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions between late 2017 and early 2018. Hyten has denied her allegations while other coworkers have questioned her claims and motive. 

Many of the sentiments revealed in the investigation documents released on Friday already had been made publicly by numerous defense officials over the past month. They were among items reviewed by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which two weeks ago approved Hyten’s nomination to be vice chairman, the military’s No. 2 officer, by a vote of 20-7. The full Senate is expected to vote on his nomination next month when it returns from August recess.

During Hyten’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, raised concerns about the general’s leadership.

I am very concerned that during the process of your time as the STRATCOM commander there had been this CAG director within your command that other people…multiple times went to you, voiced their concerns about the toxic leadership, but you did not acknowledge that. You did not do written counseling statements, you did not advise her any differently,” Ernst said. “You serve within one of the most important positions within our United States military, overseeing our nuclear arsenal, however you could not bring yourself to admit or recognize toxic leadership within your command.”

Ernst said Hyten “did nothing to change that course” until Bowden’s investigation began.

You continued to endorse her,” Ernst said. “You only did something about it when concerns were raised about your own leadership.”

Related: Sexual Assault Allegation Surfaces About Nominee for Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman 

Related: Hyten Poised For Confirmation Despite Sexual Assault Claims

Defense One contacted Spletstoser’s attorney, who declined to provide comment immediately without consulting her client. But Spletstoser told the Washington Post in an interview Friday that “she felt Hyten and his subordinates tried to paint her as mentally unstable to ‘destroy’ her credibility before she could accuse Hyten of assault.” 

The documents also reveal additional information about Hyten previously had lobbied to get Spletstoser jobs at the Pentagon and other top military commands before the period when Spletstoser says Hyten sexually assaulted her. Hyten contacted other top brass, including Gen. Mark Milley, the former Army chief of staff who will become Joint Chiefs chairman next month, and Gen. James McConville, the current Army chief of staff. Milley and McConville told investigators it was common for generals and admirals to advocate career moves for subordinates. Investigators also interviewed Gen. John Murray, the head of Army Futures Command, who had interviewed Spletstoser to be his executive officer.

In the 2018 AR-15 investigation, one of Spletstoser’s superiors, Joseph Anderson, a now-retired Army three-star general who served as a top aide to Milley at the Pentagon, called her “an unstable and irrational person who was headstrong and thought she knew best.” He said her “lack of interpersonal skills caused a lot of problems” for her direct boss, a two-star general.

Spletstroser worked at STRATCOM from May 2016 to July 2018, according to her LinkedIn profile

By Marcus Weisgerber and Kevin Baron // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials. // Kevin Baron is the founding executive editor of Defense One. Baron has lived in Washington for 20 years, covering international affairs, the military, the Pentagon, Congress, and politics for Foreign Policy, National Journal, Stars and Stripes, and the Boston Globe, where he ran investigative projects for five years at the Washington bureau. He is a frequent on-air contributor and previously was national security/military analyst at NBC News & MSNBC. Baron cut his muckraking teeth at the Center for Public Integrity and he is twice a Polk Award winner and former vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. He earned his M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University, his B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond, and studied in Paris. Raised in Florida, Baron now lives in Northern Virginia.

August 16, 2019