Why GOP Senator and Rape Survivor Martha McSally Endorsed Trump Nominee Accused of Sexual Assault

The decision to support Air Force General John E. Hyten to become President Donald Trump's second-highest military officer, the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was something that mandated extra reflection for Republican Senator Martha McSally.

"I feel like, because of what I've been through, I knew people were going to be looking to me, and I didn't take that responsibility and burden lightly," McSally, a first-term lawmaker from Arizona, told Newsweek.

Her position is unique to many of her colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who, on Tuesday, questioned General Hyten as part of the confirmation process. McSally is a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and is a military rape survivor. General Hyten has been accused of sexual assault by a former subordinate, throwing a wrench into what would have otherwise been a routine confirmation process.

"I cleared my calendar and said, 'I need to know personally, I need to study this personally.' I'm not relying on staff — no dig on staff," McSally said, motioning to one of her nearby aides. "But I gotta take this dive myself, right? Because I have a unique perspective on it. Not just as a survivor, but as someone who is steeped into this."

Martha McSally why supports Hyten
Sen. Martha McSally (C) (R-AZ) delivers opening remarks in support of U.S. Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten on his appointment as the next Vice Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing July 30 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

McSally said she spent the past few weeks examining a report that resulted from an Air Force Office of Special Investigations probe, which reportedly found insufficient evidence of sexual misconduct committed by General Hyten, a four-star general. Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser told The New York Times last week that he made several unwanted advances on her throughout her tenure working under General Hyten, including a December night in 2017 when he allegedly sexually assaulted her in a hotel room.

In her opening remarks, McSally stated, for the first time, her full-fledged support for General Hyten, having concluded that the accusations against him are "false."

"The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges. Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn't happen in this case," she said. "I pray the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for, but it cannot be by destroying General Hyten with false allegations."

The report that determined there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing by General Hyten has only been made available to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, another reason why McSally felt her colleagues would look toward her for guidance. Further muddying the water, Colonel Spletstoser, who sat just feet away from General Hyten at Tuesday's hearing, has said that she was ousted by him because she refused his sexual advances — not due to a separate government inquiry that reportedly determined she was a "toxic" leader.

"We know more than is being adjudicated in the court of public opinion right now, which is a challenge. And we are trying to protect the process and information that's not releasable that we have and that we've studied," McSally said. "A lot of my colleagues have to make a vote without being able to fully explain how they came to that place."

General Hyten was unequivocal in his denial of Colonel Spletstoser's accusations that he sexually assaulted her and then sought retaliation. The Air Force's investigation "revealed the truth" that "nothing happened, ever," he stated.

Martha McSally why supports Hyten
U.S. Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his appointment as the next Vice Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff July 30 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who oversaw the investigation, also vouched for General Hyten. In testimony before the committee, she said he "was falsely accused" and suggested Colonel Spletstoser is "a wounded soldier who believes what she is saying is true, even if it's not."

Frustrated with the hearing and the denials by General Hyten, Colonel Spletstoser characterized what she personally witnessed as a "political spectacle done at the expense of an innocent victim who has never lied on anything."

"The bottom line is, he lied about sexually assaulting me. He did it. He did it multiple times," she told reporters. "If I was a 'toxic leader,' what does that make General Hyten? He knew about my leadership style, he participated in it and he encouraged it."

Colonel Spletstoser was forced to resign last year after several colleagues at Strategic Command came to General Hyten voicing their concerns and a subsequent inquiry that determined she created a "toxic work environment."

But that would have meant the "toxic" leader went unnoticed by General Hyten, a point raised by veteran and Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. The inquiry's report, according to Ernst, said General Hyten was "enabling" the alleged toxic leadership. General Hyten denied his awareness of her conduct, saying she was successful at hiding it from him.

"You serve in one of the most important positions within our military overseeing our nuclear arsenal, yet you could not bring yourself to admit, or recognize, toxic leadership within your command," Ernst said, highlighting the difference in opinions between her and McSally. Ernst revealed earlier this year that she was raped in college.

"All of this suggests a conflict between your personal inclinations and your professional responsibilities," she added.

McSally took the position of General Hyten, in that she believed Colonel Spletstoser kept those above her in the dark while creating unfavorable work conditions for those below her. McSally cited praise that Colonel Spletstoser has received by other respected military leaders, as an example. Therefore, McSally told Newsweek, she could not fault General Hyten for allowing Colonel Spletstoser to remain as long as she did.

"None of us are perfect as leaders. And she clearly was a very talented officer. She was performing well up while she was toxic down," she said. "They found that out through the investigation. But there's — toxic leaders: they're sometimes very difficult for people to see [in the moment.] That, to me, is not disqualifying — by any stretch."

Why GOP Senator and Rape Survivor Martha McSally Endorsed Trump Nominee Accused of Sexual Assault | U.S.