The Air Force Office of Special Investigations was unable to corroborate allegations of sexual assault and an unprofessional relationship between Gen. John Hyten, President Trump’s choice to be the number two uniformed official in the military, and an Army colonel who worked for him.
The Air Force on Friday released OSI’s report, dated June 23, into Hyten, who is head of U.S. Strategic Command and was nominated to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April. Shortly afterward, a subordinate raised accusations of sexual assault against Hyten. The Air Force launched an investigation, which involved interviewing 53 witnesses across three countries and 13 states, but found no proof of wrongdoing.
Hyten, currently awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, also took a polygraph, the summary of the investigation said, but the results were said to be inconclusive, which frustrated Hyten. Through his counsel, Hyten refused to discuss the polygraph in a second interview with investigators, or in a written statement.
Hyten’s accuser, Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, alleged Hyten behaved inappropriately toward her and touched her against her wishes multiple times, including non-consensual kissing and an instance in which he ejaculated, between February 2017 and February 2018, the report said.
In an email, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said OSI’s report is a summary of interviews, record checks and other investigative steps. OSI did not make a determination of Hyten’s guilt or innocence, assess how much weight to give the evidence, or decide whether to substantiate the allegations.
Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, was the designated court-martial convening authority in Hyten’s case. Stefanek said Holmes reviewed the evidence, consulted with legal counsel, and decided there was not enough evidence to prefer any charges against Hyten, or recommend administrative action against him.
The Senate will likely hold its final vote to confirm Hyten in September, after Congress reconvenes.
In an interview with Air Force Times Friday, Spletstoser called the report a “highly redacted version, and it’s absolutely not complete.” She called on the Air Force to release the entire investigation, including the full 1,350 pages of exhibits, and Hyten’s interview. Those records, she said, would support her allegations that Hyten behaved inappropriately and was untruthful.
The released report is “a snapshot that’s clearly incomplete,” Spletstoser said. “OSI investigations don’t make characterizations, so this notion that he was cleared is blatantly false. ... The American people and everybody needs to see the facts of the case.”
Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor and head of the military sexual assault awareness group Protect Our Defenders, which is assisting Spletstoser, said in the interview that he hopes the Senate demands all information be released before voting on Hyten.
In the summary of the investigation, OSI said Spletstoser interacted with Hyten daily in her role as director of his Commander’s Action Group, and traveled with him regularly on official trips.
The first time Hyten allegedly touched her inappropriately was in February 2017 in Palo Alto, California, while visiting Stanford University, Spletstoser said. Hyten, Spletstoser, and other staffers were in Hyten’s hotel room at the end of the day, she told investigators, and he dismissed everybody except Spletstoser — who said Hyten did so ostensibly to discuss his talking points for the next day. She started to leave the room while Hyten was on the phone, she said, but he grabbed her left hand and pulled it to his groin, where he held it until she pulled her hand away. They did not discuss the encounter, she told investigators.
Spletstoser said the inappropriate behavior continued on several separate official trips that followed. During a May 2017 trip to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, Hyten allegedly texted her to come to his hotel room to discuss work. Spletstoser said Hyten handed her some paperwork, and then tried to kiss her. She said she asked him what he was trying to do, according to the report, which states “he felt really close to her and then ‘snapped out of it.’” Spletstoser said she told Hyten his actions were inappropriate, and Hyten allegedly apologized, the report said.
Spletstoser told investigators she and Hyten were regularly alone together in his offices at the Pentagon and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska between May 2017 and February 2018. During that period, Spletstoser said, Hyten would regularly tell her he had feelings for her and try to hug, kiss or otherwise touch her.
In June 2017, Spletstoser and Hyten were going over staff work in his hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, when he stood over her shoulder, put his arms around her and touched her breasts, she told investigators. He then turned her around and started to kiss her on her lips, she said.
Spletstoser said she pushed him back, asked what he was doing, and said it was inappropriate because he was married and her boss. Hyten, according to Spletstoser, said he thought she liked him, and Spletstoser said it “was not like that,” she told investigators.
Further incidents of inappropriate behavior continued during trips in August, September and November 2017, Spletstoser told investigators.
Spletstoser said that In December 2017, while at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi, California, Hyten knocked on her hotel room door after everyone else had gone to bed and entered uninvited, in his workout clothes, after she answered the door.
Spletstoser told investigators that Hyten sat down on her bed and asked her to sit with him. Although she thought it was a “weird” request, she told investigators she did not feel threatened and sat. He reached for her hand, she said, she stood up and asked what he was doing.
Hyten then stood up, pulled Spletstoser to her, and began kissing her. He held her tight against him and “grinded on her,” and after about a minute, ejaculated in his gym shorts, she alleged.
Spletstoser said she pushed him away, and asked why he acted that way, to which Hyten allegedly said he thought she would like it. She told investigators that the incident “felt like an escalation” over previous encounters with Hyten.
The report said that in May 2019, investigators tested the sweatpants Spletstoser wore that night, but found no evidence of semen. A DNA mixture was found on the outside of those sweatpants, the report said, but a DNA analysis ruled out Hyten. She said the pants had been washed four times since that encounter.
However, while Spletstoser told investigators that interviews with STRATCOM staff members and a review of Hyten’s emails and text messages would corroborate her allegations of an “unprofessional relationship,” investigators were unable to find any such indication, either through interviews or electronically.
Spletstoser said that emails on secure and unsecured military systems, as well as text messages on their government cell phones, would prove an “inappropriate relationship," which she indicated was unwelcome and unwanted on her part.
Spletstoser told investigators that Hyten routinely added her to social events and required her to travel with him, even though she often did not need to be there. She also said Hyten “constantly pressured” her to spend time with him off-duty, more so than what was expected of other staff members.
The other investigations
Spletstoser was relieved of duty as director of Hyten’s commander’s action group last year, after a probe found that she fostered a hostile work environment, labeling her leadership style as toxic and noting evidence that she had bullied subordinates. U.S. Strategic Command released that investigation, dated Feb. 9, 2018, also on Friday morning.
Out of the 10 current and former members of the action group interviewed, six gave evidence of a hostile work environment, citing alleged threats of negative performance reports or incidents where Spletstoser publicly shamed subordinates. The other four “had generally positive things to say” about the work environment, but noted that Spletstoser’s style was sometimes overly abrasive and harsh, the investigation states.
While Spletstoser denied allegations of bullying, the investigator, Brig. Gen. Gregory Bowen, wrote that “the preponderance of evidence does not support her conclusions. Her interview left the clear impression that she is not self-aware in terms of how her communication style and interpersonal skills are interpreted by others.”
During the summer of 2018, an unnamed complainant reported Hyten to the Defense Department’s inspector general for several allegations, according to an DoDIG report obtained by Military Times on Aug. 16. Sources with knowledge of the situation have told Military Times that the complainant is Spletstoser, and the OSI investigation references Spletstoser’s complaints with the DoDIG.
Hyten was alleged to have released classified information, misused military air travel for personal use and to include his wife on trips, misused a government cellphone to shop at Ebay, and inappropriately used his security detail to drive him to and from places - in one case so that he could drink alcohol. Additionally, the complainant questioned Hyten’s emotional stability, saying that “he cried ‘uncontrollably in front of middle school children,'" according to the report.
But after interviewing 30 people, including Hyten and his wife, the DoDIG found no evidence to substantiate the allegations and recommended no punitive action against him.
According to the OSI investigation of Hyten, Spletstoser said that she came forward with her allegations because other servicemembers could be at risk of further mistreatment by Hyten if he became the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and denied wanting to “get back” at him from removing her from her position at STRATCOM.
Nothing inappropriate, witnesses said
Spletstoser said Hyten’s attitude toward her changed after he saw the investigation into her. Previously, she told OSI investigators, he told her not to worry about it and that he would take care of it. But after Hyten saw that investigation implicated the two of them in an unprofessional relationship, she said, he became “determined to ‘crush her,’ and fired her and called her crazy.”
Spletstoser told OSI that she felt Hyten’s actions toward her were reprisal for raising ethical concerns about his travel. She also said she feared that if she reported the alleged inappropriate behavior, it would “feed the narrative she was crazy.”
But multiple witnesses told investigators they never saw Hyten act inappropriately or unprofessionally toward Spletstoser, and instead raised concerns about her behavior. One witness felt Spletstoser’s allegation was a “personal attack” against Hyten, because she was “unable to accept accountability for [her] actions.” Another believed she held Hyten responsible for being relieved of her duty.
Hyten’s polygraph was not conducted in the course of OSI’s investigation. One witness told investigators that Hyten’s lawyer recommended he take the polygraph and “paid a lot of money” to do so. The results were inconclusive, which upset Hyten, the witness said.
Spletstoser went public in a series of interviews last month following the Air Force’s defense of Hyten.
“You just had a four-star general get up in front of the American people and in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and make false statements under oath,” she said, following a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee. “He lied. He lied about sexually assaulting me.”
After several delays and private briefings with both Hyten and Spletstoser, members of the SASC held a nomination hearing for Hyten in late July, before clearing his nomination in a 20-7 vote. The lone Republican to vote against him, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, appears to have done so not because of the sexual assault claim, but because of how Hyten allowed a bad leadership climate to fester at STRATCOM.
“I have no concerns (about Hyten) at all,” SASC chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe told reporters after the committee vote. “You’re talking about five classified briefings, where every member had every chance to ask every question.”
Military Times reporter Leo Shane III and Defense News reporter Joe Gould contributed to this report. This story will be updated.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.