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Air Force general confirmed as vice chairman of Joint Chiefs

Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press

Washington – The Senate on Thursday confirmed the nomination of an Air Force general to become the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, largely dismissing an aide’s allegations that he had subjected her to unwanted sexual advances.

The 75-22 vote to approve Gen. John Hyten as the nation’s No. 2 military officer indicates a bit more opposition than most military nominations, which often get near-unanimous Senate support. Ten of the 22 “no” votes came from female senators, including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a survivor of sexual assault while in college and the only Republican to vote against him.

FILE - In this April 11, 2019, file photo, U.S. Strategic Command Commander Gen. John Hyten testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate has confirmed the nomination of Hyten to become the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, largely dismissing an aide's allegations that he had subjected her to unwanted sexual advances.

Hyten vigorously denied the aide’s allegations during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in July. And Pentagon officials have conducted a number of meetings on Capitol Hill to give lawmakers more information on the matter. An Air Force investigation found no evidence to support the accusations.

In addition to Ernst, others voting “no” Thursday were two Democratic presidential contenders, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who ended her 2020 Democratic presidential bid last month and who has made military sexual misconduct one of her top issues in the Senate, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq War veteran who lost her legs when her helicopter was shot down.

Hyten got the backing, however, of Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who issued a lengthy statement in his defense during the Senate hearing on his nomination. McSally is a former fighter pilot who has publicly described her own sexual assault that she says occurred while she was in the military.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, congratulated Hyten on his confirmation, calling him a “visionary leader with an unparalleled strategic perspective” that will be beneficial as the military confronts the current national security challenges. Dunford is retiring next Monday after four years on the job, so Hyten will serve mainly with the new incoming chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley.

Hyten has served in the Air Force for nearly four decades, and most recently headed U.S. Strategic Command, which controls America’s nuclear force. He also led Air Force Space Command and served as mission director at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, the military’s iconic defense bunker during the Cold War.

Hyten’s nomination was delayed for several months so that senators could pore over thousands of pages of the investigation and interview Hyten and Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, the officer who made the allegations.

Spletstoser told The Associated Press that Hyten subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his top aides. She said that she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop, and that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.

The AP generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Spletstoser has allowed her name to be used.