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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's nominee to become the second-highest-ranking U.S. military officer denied sexual assault allegations against him at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.
"Nothing happened, ever," Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the outgoing head of the U.S. military's Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Earlier this year, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced that Hyten, America's top nuclear commander, would become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The denial by Hyten came on the heels of a U.S. Air Force investigation into sexual assault claims made against him by U.S. Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who was formerly under Hyten's command. She sat behind him during his testimony on Tuesday.
"I was just devastated as a human being, and it was scary, and it was a horrible position to be in," Spletstoser said of the alleged assault to reporters after the hearing. She alleges that Hyten engaged in unwanted kissing, touching and rubbing up against her.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations did not find sufficient evidence to charge Hyten in the matter.
The latest revelation comes as the Pentagon deals with 6,053 reports in 2018 of sexual assault.
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, defended Hyten during his testimony on Tuesday.
"Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn't happen in this case," she said.
Earlier this year, McSally disclosed in a hearing that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force.
"The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges," McSally said, adding that she hoped Spletstoser "gets the help she needs."
Wilson, who was Air Force secretary until she stepped down in May, introduced and endorsed Hyten at the hearing. "This matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination," she said, adding that he had been falsely accused.
Lawmakers could hold a vote on Hyten's nomination before the Senate leaves for August recess.