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Tuesday January 21st, 2020 8:59AM

AP Exclusive: Officer accuses general of sexual misconduct

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 the military investigation that found insufficient evidence to charge him.

The officer told The Associated Press that Gen. 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 alleged victim remains in the military but has moved to a different job.

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

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 Donald Trump's nominees for that position recently withdrew after details of his contentious divorce surfaced. On Sunday, an admiral selected to be the top Navy officer withdrew due to what officials said was an inappropriate professional relationship.

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, Gen. Paul Selva, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month.

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

"With more than 38 years of service to our nation, Gen. 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, conducted interviews with as many as 50 people and pursued every lead, but did not uncover evidence to support the allegations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, added that they also found no evidence that the woman was lying. The official said

Last month, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter 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.

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 came into 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 that he would not pose a risk to any other service members.

She later learned that she was under investigation by Strategic Command for what officials said was "toxic" leadership behavior.

That allegation surprised her, she says, 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."

The investigators issued her a letter of reprimand for her leadership and she was removed from her job at Strategic Command. She submitted her retirement.

But military officials in her branch of service determined her retirement was coerced and they rejected it. They then moved her to another senior job in the Washington area.

As she moved into her position, the officer received another negative evaluation by Hyten, which she appealed. During the appeals process, Hyten was nominated for the vice chairman position.

The woman said she decided she couldn't live with the idea that Hyten might assault someone else if he was confirmed for the job. She reported the sexual misconduct to the Defense Department inspector general.

Because the charges involved criminal sexual assault, the case was referred to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and a formal investigation into Hyten was launched. Several weeks later, Gen. James Holmes, the officer in charge of the investigation, decided not to press charges.

Asked whether she has ever filed similar complaints, the officer said she was one of several who reported a commander for sexual harassment in 2007 in Iraq.

The woman told the AP she believes Hyten has committed "the perfect crime where no one will ever believe me."

"I've already completed a successful career," she said. "I had nothing to gain from doing this."

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