WASHINGTON — Gen. John Hyten moved a step closer Wednesday to becoming the second-highest officer in the U.S. military.
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 20-7 to advance Hyten’s nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a bipartisan show of support in the face of sexual misconduct allegations Hyten has denied.
“He’s a strong person for that position, and I’m excited he’s out on a good vote,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a member of the committee who supported the nomination.
Hyten is currently head of U.S. Strategic Command, which is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base.
Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser was a top aide to Hyten at StratCom, where she received positive reviews before being forced out over claims that she had created a “toxic” work environment.
After Hyten’s nomination was announced, Spletstoser came forward with accusations that he had made a series of unwanted advances toward her and sexually assaulted her.
Spletstoser has said that confirming Hyten will send a terrible message. In his confirmation hearing earlier this week, Hyten repeatedly denied that there is any truth to her claims.
In a statement provided by her attorney, Spletstoser said Wednesday that she was not surprised by the committee’s vote but that it was “gut wrenching” all the same.
She stood by her allegations, said Hyten lied to the committee and expressed a desire to testify in an open hearing.
Spletstoser described the Air Force investigation into her accusations as a one-sided exercise aimed at discrediting her.
“I deserve the chance to clear my name,” she said. “I knew coming forward would be incredibly difficult, but I never expected this.”
Hyten defenders include former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who revealed earlier this year that she was raped by a senior officer while serving in the military.
They and others have characterized the Air Force investigation as thorough and exhaustive — and said the inquiry showed that Hyten is innocent.
Seven Democrats on the committee voted for the nomination, while only one Republican member voted against it — Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.
Asked why she opposed the nomination, Ernst referred reporters to her comments during the confirmation hearing in which she pressed Hyten on his handling of the toxic leadership situation.
“This leaves me with concerns about your judgment and ability to lead in one of the highest positions in the U.S. military,” Ernst said during the hearing.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee chairman, said he would like a full Senate vote on the nomination soon but acknowledged that it’s unlikely to occur before September, with lawmakers poised to leave shortly for their August recess.
Inhofe said he feels confident that the full Senate will confirm Hyten.
“If someone can accuse someone of sexual assault without any evidence ... then anyone can do that,” he said. “It could happen to anyone.”