An Army colonel, who claimed without evidence that the four-star general who oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal repeatedly sexually assaulted her, has a history of making unsubstantiated allegations against supervisors she claims have slighted her, the findings of an Air Force investigation show.
In the weeks since the Air Force cleared Gen. John Hyten, following a comprehensive review by the Office of Special Investigations, major media have prominently published and widely broadcast lurid and salacious claims made against him by the subordinate who was removed from her position for “toxic” leadership.
Hyten, who leads the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), was nominated in April by President Donald Trump to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The nomination was delayed by an investigation of the claims but was approved last week in the Senate Armed Services Committee by a vote of 20-7. The entire Senate will vote on the nomination in the weeks to come.
The Air Force investigation found no merit to the dozens of unsubstantiated claims made by Col. Kathryn Spletstoser in the last couple of years, as well as a history of unsubstantiated claims levied against supervisors. Colleagues of Spletstoser say she had anger issues, bullied subordinates, and had an incredibly foul mouth. They say she’s lying. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has vocally opposed Hyten “given the disturbing allegations” against him, did not show up to the Senate Executive Session in which the Air Force investigation findings were confidentially revealed and discussed.
Spletstoser levied dozens of allegations against several supervisors following the loss of her job in 2018, but she had made unsubstantiated allegations previously as well. For instance, two years after a good, but not great, performance review in 2007 that she believed had kept her from being selected for battalion command, Spletstoser appealed and claimed the man who gave her the review had sexually harassed her throughout her tour of duty in Iraq.
She claimed that on the day she left Iraq, “he gave her the choice of either getting on her scheduled flight or coming back to his containerized housing unit to renegotiate her evaluation report by performing sexual favors.” That allegation was denied by her commander.
The Army Suitability Review Board didn’t accept her request to rescind the review. She appealed that ruling to the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, which not only denied her claim, but said, “Applicant’s scorched earth attack on the [performance review], much of which is patently specious, undermines her overall credibility. Tellingly, applicant has proffered not a single statement from a third party supporting her version of events.”
Wild Litany of Unsubstantiated Allegations
Even Spletstoser’s 2019 claims of sexual assault were not the first unsubstantiated allegations she had made against Hyten. Following a review that found her leadership “toxic” and led to her removal from her position, Spletstoser made nearly three dozen claims against Hyten and other superiors.
In March 2016, Spletstoser was assigned to Strategic Command as director of the Commander’s Action Group. Strategic Command is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Hyten and Spletstoser got along very well, and he repeatedly praised her and her work, although other colleagues found her to be abrasive and difficult.
Maj. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, who was Hyten’s chief of staff, initiated an inquiry into the workplace climate of Strategic Command in November 2017 in response to staff concerns about Spletstoser’s leadership style. That inquiry found that people called Spletstoser “bipolar” and “toxic.”
Army regulations require an investigation of field officers with these types of reviews and a formal review, called an AR 15-6, was initiated. When Hyten told her this, Karbler said Spletstoser stood up and said “I quit,” and began leaving the office. Karbler told her to return to her seat, as she had not been dismissed. He said she became upset and claimed she “hated STRATCOM” and “was bored” there.
The investigation, which was completed in February 2018, found that Spletstoser had “fostered a hostile work environment,” and that her behavior negatively affected cooperation with other headquarters. It found she was a “toxic leader” with a “destructive leadership style.” It also found that she had been quite supportive of Hyten but at the expense of how other staff were treated.
The AR 15-6 recommended that she receive a reprimand, be removed as director, and be given executive coach training to improve her interpersonal skills.
When Karbler gave the news to Spletstoser, she contacted Hyten and told him he “has 24 hours to right this wrong or she will kill herself and he could apologize to her at her funeral.” Others received emails they interpreted as evidence of Spletstoser’s intent to harm herself.
The Office of Special Investigations tracked her down with her cell phone to her off-base apartment. While the military investigators could hear a woman’s voice in the apartment, no one answered the door. Omaha Police came to the scene and told her they would knock down her door if it wasn’t opened. An Omaha Police Department incident report reveals that she was taken into Emergency Protective Custody and transported to University of Nebraska Medical Center.
A few days later, she apologized to colleagues and reported that she had undisclosed traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. She promised to get treatment and began preparing for retirement.
By June, however, she rescinded her retirement application and began making allegations against a variety of supervisors. For instance, she claimed that Karbler had retaliated against her for making protected communications and that Hyten had given her a negative review after she reported she had been bullied by a Navy admiral. By mid-August 2018, Spletstoser had contacted Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and claimed she was a victim of a hostile workplace.
In August 2018, Spletstoser claimed to the Department of Defense Inspector General that Hyten had misused military aircraft for personal reasons, allowed his spouse to travel on military aircraft for inappropriate reasons, misused his protective detail, and misused his government cellphone. In October, she launched a new complaint that he had inappropriately divulged classified information. In November, she claimed that Hyten had a poor emotional state and judgement and had cried uncontrollably in front of middle-school children.
The Department of Defense inspector general found none of the claims to be credible or substantiated, and issued a final report saying that on March 15, 2019. Hyten was nominated to be vice chairman on April 8. Beginning the week of April 9, Spletstoser began making the claims of sexual assault against him. Those claims were also found to be without merit.
The Air Force investigation was exhaustive. A team of 53 investigators interviewed 63 people in three countries and 14 states, reviewing more than 196,000 emails, 4,000 pages of documents, 152 travel records, and phone records dating to 2015, and conducting forensic analysis. They were unable to find any corroboration of any of Spletstoser’s claims of sexual assault or other wrongdoing.
Hyten is one of the most protected members of the military. His security detail disputed Spletstoser’s allegations, as did multiple colleagues of the two.
Following the failure of various investigations to support her allegations, Spletstoser went public with her claims of sexual assault on the front page of The New York Times on July 27. The article, by Helene Cooper, began with a gripping account of one of Spletstoser’s lurid allegations:
Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser of the Army says she had returned to her hotel room and was putting on face cream on the night of Dec. 2, 2017, after a full day at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California, when her boss, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the commander of United States Strategic Command, knocked on her door and said he wanted to talk to her.
The military’s itinerary of General Hyten’s movements that day in Simi Valley, which was viewed by The New York Times, said he was having ‘executive time.’ Colonel Spletstoser said in an interview this week that her boss ‘sat on the bed in front of the TV and asked me to sit down next to him.’
According to her account, General Hyten reached for her hand. She became alarmed, and stood back up. He stood up too, she said, and pulled her to him and kissed her on the lips while pressing himself against her, then ejaculated, getting semen on his sweatpants and on her yoga pants.
While the reputation-damaging details were salacious, the Air Force had already investigated the claim and found it completely lacking. The U.S. Army Criminal Identification Laboratory tested the pants Spletstoser had provided. She said she was wearing the pants during the incident and the stain on the outside was Hyten’s semen.
However, testing excluded Hyten as a source of the DNA material detected on the pants. However, Spletstoser was one of the contributors to the DNA material on the pants. These facts didn’t make it into the New York Times report.
The New York Times was extremely sympathetic to Spletstoser, painting her uncorroborated allegations as credible. The Washington Post also highlighted the salacious claims. Mother Jones approached the uncorroborated allegations credulously, dismissing the exhaustive investigations that debunked them:
On Tuesday, Donald Trump’s nominee for the nation’s second-highest ranking military officer, General John Hyten, began his confirmation hearing and was forced to respond to accusations that he had sexually assaulted a former aide. And based on the tone of Tuesday’s hearing, it looks like Senate Republicans are ready to ignore those allegations and confirm Trump’s nominee.
Former Air Force secretary Heather Wilson testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “General Hyten was falsely accused and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination.”
Retired major general Heidi Brown worked with both Hyten and Spletstoser. She gave Spletstoser an order to stop using the F-word in her presence. “The current case against General John Hyten is not about the sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations made against him by a subordinate officer he fired. No, the current case is about how the officer he fired has been permitted to conduct such malicious perjury in retaliation for her dismissal,” said Brown, who retired in 2017 after serving nearly 36 years on active duty, in an interview.
Despite Lack Of Evidence, Partisans Support Spletstoser
After Hyten’s public hearing, Spletstoser held a press conference outside the conference room. MSNBC broadcast her remarks, which included the baseless allegations against Hyten, for five full minutes.
Many Democratic officials supported Spletstoser despite the lack of evidence. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she believed the allegations that multiple investigations found to be baseless, suggesting that Hyten was a criminal. “Col. Spletstoser’s allegations are credible and serious. They paint a picture of criminal conduct by a man unfit for command,” she said.
Democratic strategist Greg Pinelo said of the uncorroborated claims, “A rapist has been nominated for the Joint Chiefs. Not a doubt in my mind.” Rep. Ayana Pressley (D-Mass.) said of the claims made by Spletstoser, “Survivors deserve justice. Period. As a survivor, Col. Kathryn Spletstoser deserves justice.”
Democratic candidate for Congress Roger Misso alleged, “Every time we ignore survivors & elevate perpetrators of sexual assault, we make it that much more difficult for the next woman to come forward.” The exhaustive investigations and contact with the Senate Armed Services Committee show that Spletstoser was not ignored.
Colleagues of Spletstoser and Hyten worried about the opposite situation. They said a campaign of false claims is contrary to the good order and discipline that underpins military service. Some colleagues worried that false claims hurt the cause of rooting out sexual assault in the military.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) reportedly called Defense Secretary Mike Esper to discuss the importance of supporting Hyten in the face of zero corroborating evidence. To do otherwise, he argued, could have a chilling effect on the reporting of actual sexual assaults, as victims could be reluctant to be viewed as a false accuser trying to derail a career.
For now, the nomination appears to be on track. And even most Democratic senators expressed skepticism of the unsubstantiated claims made against Hyten. But some colleagues of Spletstoser’s believe that the relentless campaign against Hyten must be responded to with disciplinary action.