An Air Force general nominated to be the nation's number two military officer on Tuesday vociferously denied before a Senate committee allegations of sexual assault made by a former aide -- and a now-retired Army general who investigated the accuser told Fox News the "timing is suspect" regarding her claims.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who has been nominated to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, introduced his wife of 32 years before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday -- with his accuser sitting further back, but in the same hearing room -- and told the lawmaker the allegations against him were shown to be false after a "very extensive and thorough investigation."
"It has been a painful time for me and my family, but I want to state to you and the American people in the strongest possible terms that these allegations are false," Hyten said, in part. "Nothing happened, ever."
His denial came after several months of delays in the nomination process as senators investigated charges made by Hyten's former aide, Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser.
"It was very hard to hear him denying what he did to me and painful to listen to several senators accusing me of being a liar and insinuating it had to do with combat injuries, and it was just sort of a hit job," Spletstoser responded to Fox News, "which was disappointing, to be honest with you."
The former Army colonel, who had been under Gen. Hyten’s command running the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal, accused the general of sexual assault stemming from an alleged incident at the Reagan Library in December 2017 -- a few months before officials say the colonel was fired for creating a "toxic" work environment and "bullying" subordinates while displaying a "volcanic temper." Some of Spletstoser's charges reportedly went to chaplains on the base because the harassment was so intense, according to officials who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Before making the accusations against her then-boss, Spletstoser was herself accused of misbehavior at work, leading to a formal investigation by the U.S. nuclear command, according to five U.S. defense officials.
"I don't find her to be credible at all," said now-retired Brig. Gen. Gregory S. Bowen, the former deputy director of Global Operations at U.S. Strategic Command, which is tasked with maintaining America’s nuclear forces, from strategic bombers to land-based missiles and submarines.
In a phone interview with Fox News on Monday night, Bowen said the "timing is suspect" regarding Spletstoser’s accusations against Hyten. Officials said Spletstoser came forward with her accusations only after President Trump nominated Hyten to be the Pentagon’s number two officer last spring.
"I don't find her to be credible at all"
Bowen described Gen. Hyten as "a man of exceptional character and integrity," while former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Washington Post she thought Hyten was being "falsely accused." Other officials praised the Air Force General. Fox News spoke to over a dozen military officials, including six female officers at the Pentagon familiar with the charges against Hyten, all of them saying the charges against him could not be substantiated.
One official said when Spletstoser was not booked in the same hotel as her boss on travel, she ripped into her staff. Spletstoser’s job was to run an office called the CAG, otherwise known as the commander’s action group. One official described her position as similar to a "think tank advisor." Spletstoser had "no direct role" in operating or readying the military’s nuclear weapons, one official added.
Some military officers expressed concern to Fox News over Spletstoser’s mental state. A person with knowledge of her work at U.S. Strategic Command said she leveled various accusations against at least a dozen other military officers in the past few years. None of the charges were ever substantiated, the officials added.
Fox News obtained an incident report from the Omaha Police Department that described a "disturbance in the office" on Feb 26, 2018 not long after she was fired from Hyten’s command. The report stated Spletstoser told Hyten earlier in the day "he [had] 24 hrs. to rectify the situation, or [she] was going to kill [herself] with a family firearm."
One official said Hyten’s protective security detail was increased following the alleged suicidal incident.
Asked to comment on the report, Spletstoser told Fox News, "You're missing half that Omaha police report. I never made a threat in person or verbally."
The opening hour of the hearing on Tuesday was dominated by the alleged sexual assault and included strong statements of support for Hyten from Wilson, and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Az., a former fighter pilot who has publicly described her own sexual assault.
McSally said she has "full confidence" in Hyten and believes he is innocent.
"This wasn't just a jump ball. Not a 'he said, she said,'" McSally said. "Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn't happen in this case."
McSally added that she prays that "the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for. But it cannot be by destroying General Hyten with false allegations."
But fellow Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, expressed concern about Hyten's handling of complaints of a "toxic" environment within his command.
"There're professional responsibilities associated with being such a high ranking leader and that is to make sure that those within your command are following your directive and not engaging in toxic leadership," she said. "So this leaves me with concerns about your judgment and ability to lead in one of the highest positions in the US military."
Ernst is a former reserve officer. She recently disclosed that she was a survivor of a college sexual assault.
Neither Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., nor Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., both members of the Armed Services Committee, were at the confirmation hearing for Hyten, as both senators are in Michigan for the Democratic presidential debates.
“Senator Gillibrand opposes General Hyten’s nomination and believes the Committee shouldn’t be rushing this nomination through today given the disturbing allegations and the concerns about the process in this case," a spokesperson told Fox News.
Gillibrand asked for the hearing be delayed until a deeper review was completed. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the committee, said last week that he was hopeful of moving forward with a vote in the committee possibly before the Senate's August recess.
Late last week, more than two dozen former defense officials wrote to committee leaders urging them to fully consider Hyten's nomination and allow a vote on the Senate floor.
"We do not present any judgment on the investigation; we do, however, write on behalf of the exemplary officer that we have known and with whom we have worked," they said. "We believe that our nation would greatly benefit if Gen. John Hyten were to be confirmed as Vice Chairman."
The group sending the letter includes a number of former executives at the national laboratories that work on nuclear issues and projects.
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Caroline McKee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.