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Trump’s choice for Pentagon’s No. 2 officer denies sexual assault charges

General John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, addresses Team Pete at an all call at the base auditorium on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Aug. 4, 2016. (Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman/U.S. Air Force)

Air Force Gen. John Hyten on Tuesday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a subordinate, explosive charges that threaten to derail his nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It has been a painful time for me and my family, but I want to state to you and to the American people in the strongest possible terms that these allegations are false,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination by President Donald Trump to be the military’s No. 2 officer. “There was a very extensive, thorough investigation which revealed the truth. Nothing happened. Ever.”

The allegations, first reported by the Associated Press, were made by a colonel on Hyten’s staff who alleges that Hyten assaulted her by forcing her to kiss him and that he pressed himself against her. Sexual assault and harassment has been a vexing issue for the military, which saw a 38% increase in assaults in 2018 compared with 2016.

Hyten was introduced by former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson who authorized the Air Force investigation into the allegations. She said the 1,400 page report cleared Hyten. Wilson told the committee that Hyten was falsely accused and added that it is possible his accuser is a “wounded soldier” who believes that the assault occurred.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force pilot who earlier this year said she was sexually assaulted in the service, said she had reviewed the evidence and was convinced that Hyten didn’t assault the woman.

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“It just didn’t happen in this case,” McSally.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the committee, made clear that he believed Hyten after the committee probed the charges. The committee reviewed thousands of pages of investigative records and interviewed 50 witnesses in five closed sessions about the matter, Inhofe said.

“Addressing these allegations is critical, not just for you, Gen. Hyten, but for every nominee going forward,” Inhofe said. “This committee takes allegations of sexual assault very seriously – it is unacceptable. But this committee will not act on unproven allegations – allegations that do not withstand the close scrutiny of this committee’s process.”

Hyten commands U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for the global command and control of U.S. nuclear forces.

The Air Force has mounted a campaign to smear Hyten’s accuser, said Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force who now leads Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military. There is no evidence, Christensen said, that the woman fabricated the charges.

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

Earlier in July, 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.

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© 2019 USA Today

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.