Air Force investigators earlier this year cleared US Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten of sexual assault allegations, but now those claims have surfaced again as the Senate considers him for the Pentagon’s No. 2 uniformed job.
The Air Force said July 10 that a subordinate filed a complaint with the Air Force Inspector General alleging that Hyten committed “abusive sexual contact.” The complaint was referred to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which investigated the claims. Defense One first reported on the allegations this week, saying the incident in question happened between late 2017 and early 2018. Neither DOD nor USAF confirmed to Air Force Magazine when the alleged incident occurred.
Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes oversaw the case as the designated convening authority, according to the Air Force.
“After a thorough review of the evidence collected by OSI, which included numerous witness interviews and relevant documents, and after meeting with the alleged victim, the designated General Court-Martial Convening Authority determined there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Air Force Magazine.
A STRATCOM spokeswoman said the command “fully cooperated” with the AFOSI probe. Pentagon spokeswoman Col. DeDe Halfhill echoed the decision to clear Hyten.
“Hyten cooperated with the investigation,” Halfhill told Air Force Magazine. “With more than 38 years of service to our nation, Gen. Hyten has proven himself to be a principled and dedicated patriot."
President Donald Trump nominated Hyten to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April, though the Senate Armed Services Committee has not scheduled a confirmation hearing. Defense One reported that Hyten’s accuser directly contacted senators, who are reviewing Hyten’s nomination as well as the allegations. Committee spokeswoman Marta Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment July 10.
The Associated Press reported that the officer who accused Hyten is a member of a different military service, and that she learned after the alleged incidents that STRATCOM was investigating her for “toxic” leadership. She said she was surprised by that in part because of the earlier exemplary performance evaluations Hyten had written for her, which the AP said it reviewed. In the evaluations, AP reported, Hyten ranked her as the top officer on his staff and wrote that she was an “exceptionally competent and committed leader” whose “ethics are above reproach.”
After she was reprimanded for her leadership and removed from her job at Strategic Command, the AP reported, she submitted her retirement. However, AP said, her service branch considered the request “coerced,” and instead placed her in another job.
Though the DOD investigation ran its course, lawmakers are likely to discuss the accusations if they do move forward with a confirmation hearing. The news comes after assault claims have dominated other high-profile hearings, such as the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Hyten has led STRATCOM since November 2016 and previously served as Air Force Space Command chief. He was seen as a leading candidate to become Air Force chief of staff, but Gen. David Goldfein was selected over him because of his experience as a combat pilot at a time when the US was growing its focus on air warfare in the Middle East.
Hyten has been a leading expert on space and, if confirmed, would be a trusted voice as the department revives US Space Command and potentially creates a new military service for space. He also leads efforts to recapitalize the nation’s nuclear triad and is in charge of developing a new nuclear command, control, and communications enterprise for the cyber age. He would replace retiring Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chairman.
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