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Military officer alleges sexual misconduct by general

An investigation into Air Force General John Hyten’s conduct found insufficient evidence to charge him.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press/File 2019
An investigation into Air Force General John Hyten’s conduct found insufficient evidence to charge him.

WASHINGTON — A senior military officer has accused the Air Force general tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of sexual misconduct, potentially jeopardizing his nomination. Members of Congress have raised questions about the allegations and a military investigation that found insufficient evidence to charge him.

The officer told The Associated Press that General John 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 aides. She said that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.

The Air Force investigated the woman’s allegations, which she reported days after Hyten’s nomination was announced in April, and found there was insufficient evidence to charge the general or recommend any administrative punishment. The accuser remains in the military but has moved to a different job.

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‘‘My life was ruined by this,’’ she told the AP.

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The woman asked to not be identified by name. The AP generally does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted.

The accusations against Hyten come at a time when the Pentagon has had an unusual amount of turmoil in its senior ranks, with only an acting defense secretary for the past six months. One of President Trump’s nominees for that position, Patrick Shanahan, recently withdrew after details of his contentious divorce surfaced. On Sunday, an admiral, William Moran, who had been selected to be the top Navy officer, withdrew due to what officials said was an inappropriate professional relationship; Moran said he didn’t want to be ‘‘an impediment’’ and requested to be allowed to retire.

It’s unclear when, or if, Hyten’s confirmation hearing will move forward. It has not been scheduled, despite the fact that the current vice chairman, General Paul Selva, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month.

Air Force Colonel DeDe Halfhill, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Hyten’s nomination remains on course.

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‘‘With more than 38 years of service to our nation, General Hyten has proven himself to be a principled and dedicated patriot,’’ she said.

A senior Air Force official said investigators went through 10,000 pages of documents, interviewed as many as 50 people, and pursued every lead but did not uncover evidence to support the allegations. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, added that they also found no evidence that the woman was lying.

Last month, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth wrote to acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper asking why Hyten was not removed from his post amid the investigation. The letter, obtained by the AP, raised questions about whether he received special treatment.

The woman making the allegations said she, too, wonders if Hyten received special treatment because of his rank, and she fears her honesty and motives will be questioned because of the circumstances and timing of her allegations.

The woman began working for Hyten in November 2016. Though he is an Air Force general, she is in another military branch, which she asked the AP not to disclose.

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The officer said the unwanted sexual contact, kissing, and hugging began in early 2017 and recurred several times throughout that year when she was working closely with Hyten. She said she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop.

In December 2017, when they were in Southern California for the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, Hyten entered her room wearing workout clothes and hugged her tightly and rubbed up against her, according to the woman. She said she told him to leave.

Hyten then asked the woman if she was going to report him. She said she told him no.

The woman said she didn’t report the incidents at the time in order to avoid embarrassment, and out of fear of retaliation. She was also thinking about retiring and believed Hyten was, as well, so she concluded he would not pose a risk to any other service members.

She later learned she was under investigation by the Strategic Command for what officials said was ‘‘toxic’’ leadership behavior. That allegation surprised her, she said, because Hyten was familiar with her leadership style and ‘‘encouraged’’ it. He had given her glowing performance reviews, some of which were reviewed by the AP.

‘‘I was not the most popular officer in the command. In fact, one could say I was not popular at all,’’ she said. ‘‘But I was very successful in turning around an organization.’’

In her interview with the AP, she showed copies of performance reviews from Hyten in which she was ranked as the top officer out of 71 on his staff. Hyten wrote that she had ‘‘unlimited potential to lead and serve with distinction as a multi-star’’ general.

‘‘Exceptionally competent and committed leader with the highest level of character,’’ Hyten wrote, adding that ‘‘her ethics are above reproach.’’