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Two Republican senators split sharply in assessments of general accused of sexual assault

Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser has accused General John Hyten of making unwanted sexual advances. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser has accused General John Hyten of making unwanted sexual advances. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two survivors of sexual assault who serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee split sharply Tuesday in their assessments of whether President Trump’s pick to serve as the military’s second-highest officer was fit for the job amid accusations that he sexually assaulted an Army colonel when she was under his command.

‘‘Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen in this case,’’ Senator Martha McSally, Republican from Arizona, said in defense of General John Hyten at his confirmation hearing, arguing that the case ‘‘wasn’t just a jump ball, not a he-said, she-said’’ but that ‘‘the full truth was revealed in this process.’’

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‘‘The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges,’’ she said.

But Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, said the facts of the investigation ‘‘left me with concerns regarding your judgment, leadership and fitness to serve as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.’’

Hyten, who is currently in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal as the head of US Strategic Command, was nominated to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April. That prompted Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser to come forward with allegations that he repeatedly made unwanted sexual contact with her while the two traveled for work in 2017.

‘‘I’m intensely aware of the allegations made against me concerning one of the most serious problems we have in the military,’’ Hyten said Tuesday during his opening statement before the committee. ‘‘These allegations are false. There was a very extensive, thorough investigation . . . that revealed the truth: nothing happened, ever.’’

McSally and Ernst went public earlier this year with their personal stories of sexual assault and rape: McSally was the victim of a superior officer in the Air Force, while Ernst, who is also a veteran, was victimized in college.

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Ernst did not defend Spletstoser’s allegations but focused her concerns on Hyten’s approach to the colonel, who was asked to leave his command after an internal investigation determined she had created a ‘‘toxic work environment.’’

McSally did not say how or why she reached the conclusion that she would support Hyten.

Both Hyten and Spletstoser said Tuesday that they would endorse a release of the report.

Several senators spoke in Hyten’s defense during Tuesday’s hearing.

But no senators spoke out specifically in defense of Spletstoser.