Gillibrand raises concerns about Air Force Gen. John Hyten

Gillibrand raises concerns about Air Force Gen. John Hyten

WASHINGTON — Another of President Donald Trump’s nominations for a top Pentagon post is potentially in peril amid accusations of inappropriate conduct.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations cleared Air Force Gen. John Hyten of wrongdoing after a senior officer alleged he subjected her to unwanted sexual advances. But a key lawmaker helping to vet his nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is raising concerns about the integrity of the probe. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee and the top Democrat on its personnel subcommittee, wrote to Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Friday asking him to personally review the case and saying she is “not prepared to move forward with consideration of General Hyten’s candidacy for the second highest military office in our nation without, at minimum, such a thorough review.”

“As Pentagon leadership continues to publicly underscore that it is doing all it can to counter the sexual assault problem in the military, I ask that your office sets the best example,” Gillibrand said. “Your office and other DoD senior leaders need to show that sexual assault allegations against the most senior officials will be treated the same as when junior enlisted members are accused of similar felony-level crimes.” 

Days after Hyten’s nomination was announced in April, the officer reported the general had kissed and hugged her and rubbed up against her against her will, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The investigation of the allegations found “insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct,” Pentagon spokeswoman Col. DeDe Halfhill said.

“With more than 38 years of service to our Nation, Gen Hyten has proven himself to be a principled and dedicated patriot,” she said.

But Gillibrand said she has concerns the investigation happened “exceedingly quickly for such criminal inquiries” and was conducted by a fellow Air Force general with less seniority.

“The reasonable decision would have been to appoint an official more senior than the accused, possibly one in a different service, to avoid conflicts of interest or even a perception of such by the rank and file or the public,” she said. 

Hyten is the third top Defense official to face questions about past conduct in less than a month. In June, Patrick Shanahan resigned as acting Defense secretary after USA TODAY and others revealed details about his turbulent divorce and family life.

More: Shanahan says he will resign after scrutiny over 2010 domestic fight

Last week, Navy Adm. Bill Moran announced he was retiring after a USA TODAY request for his correspondence with a former aide triggered a call for an inspector general’s probe. Moran had already been confirmed by the Senate and was slated to begin work August 1 as the Navy’s top officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

More: Navy’s choice to head Naval Operations to step down amid call for inspector general’s investigation

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said Moran’s continued contact with the aide, who had been disciplined for making inappropriate sexual advances, “caused me to call his judgment into question,” and he accepted Moran’s request to retire. The content of the correspondence is unknown because USA TODAY’s  Freedom of Information Act request remains outstanding. Official Navy business must be conducted on government accounts.

The officer who accused Hyten of unwanted sexual advances began working for him in 2016, according to the AP, which did not identify her by name. She said there were multiple incidents of inappropriate contact the following year, including at a California hotel where he came to her room in workout clothes and hugged her and rubbed against her. The officer said that when she told him to leave, he asked her if she planned to report him. She said she told him she wouldn’t.

The officer said she didn’t tell anyone at the time or report him for fear of retaliation. She said she also thought he was going to retire. But when his nomination was announced, the officer reported the incidents to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

The inspector general referred the allegations to the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, which “conducted an independent investigation,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

“Then, 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,” Stefanek said.

Gillibrand asked the acting Defense secretary to provide the investigation file to the accusing officer and to meet with her personally to hear her side.

It’s unclear when, or if, Hyten’s confirmation hearing will be scheduled. The current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Paul Selva, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month.

Contributing: Associated Press 

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