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Impeachment Inquiries

November 15, 2019

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Gen. John Hyten ‘did something incredibly wrong to me,’ says Col. Kathryn Spletstoser

Earlier this year, Gen. John Hyten was nominated by President Trump to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But he's been accused of sexual assault by one of his former assistants, Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who reiterated her allegations Tuesday after some members of the Senate Armed Services Committee had dismissed them. Judy Woodruff sits down with Spletstoser to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Air Force General John Hyten was nominated in April by President Trump to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But he's been accused of sexual assault and making unwanted advances by one of his former assistants, Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser.

    Spletstoser has been in the Army for 28 years. She's received glowing fitness reviews, including from General Hyten himself, who wrote in 2017 that Spletstoser was "in the top 1 percent of all colonels I have seen in my 36 years of service" and that — quote — "Kathy will be the kind of general officer the Army needs, ready today for brigadier general, unlimited potential to lead."

    At his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, General Hyten denied Spletstoser's allegations.

  • John Hyten:

    It has been a painful time for me and my family, but I want to state to you and to the American people, in the strongest possible terms, that these allegations are false.

    There were — there were — there was a very extensive, thorough investigation that Dr. Wilson described which revealed the truth: Nothing happened ever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to move Hyten's nomination to the full Senate, with Republican Senator Joni Ernst joining six other Democrats in voting against General Hyten. And a warning: There is explicit, graphic language in this conversation with Colonel Spletstoser, which I recorded a short time ago.

    With me now is Army Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser.

    Colonel, thank you very much for being here.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, tell us first, what was your relationship with General Hyten before these advances that you say happened took place?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Well, we were — I was his CAG director, his commanders action group director.

    I basically developed a pretty good relationship with him early on. I was probably his most favorite subordinate, first among equals. That's the way he treated me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Saw him every day?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Every day, all day and on travel, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you say that these unwelcomed advances started in early 2017.

    Just give us an example.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    So it started in January 2017 on a trip to Palo Alto. And we were doing work in his hotel after his — his hotel room after work hours. And he asked me to stay behind.

    We went over and covered some stuff for the next day, engagements at Stanford. And then, as I was leaving, he actually stopped me on my way out the door, pulled my hand to his groin, and he had an erect penis.

    And I was very shocked and confused. Like, I didn't understand what that meant. I was mortified. He — I just turned around, and he gave me sort of a face that was very disconcerting. Like, he thought I would like that. He didn't say anything.

    I said — I basically didn't say anything. I left. And that was the first encounter. I thought, it could have been a mistake or an accident.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have said that these advances continued off and on through 2017, and then, in December, something more serious happened.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Well, I would say, in June, something more serious happened.

    In June in Washington, D.C. — and we made a lot of trips to D.C. — this was another time where we were actually going over some work for the next day to prepare for some engagements in D.C. And he asked me to stay and go over some work.

    And in that — and it was in his hotel suite, and it was after the duty hour, but it wasn't very late. And he stood over my shoulder. He grabbed my breasts and turned me around and started kissing me passionately.

    And I pushed him off. I said: "This is not going to happen. Like, what are you doing?" And he said: "I just wanted to see how that felt. I thought you would like it." And I'm like: "I didn't like it. Why would you think that?" And he's like: "Well, I thought you liked me." And I was like: "Sir, I do like you, but not like that." And he is like: "Well, why not?" I'm like: "You're married, you're my boss and you're not my type."

    And so he asked, like, what my type was. And I said: "Someone not married, someone not my boss, and I prefer men of color."

    And he made a snarky remark about that's why myself and his former aide got along so well, because he was an African-American guy.

    We proceeded to have a conversation that was very argumentative. He got upset. He actually sat down on the couch and actually started crying.

    And I was very confused and shocked at that. He's a very emotional guy. But now I'm sort of in a position where he did something incredibly wrong to me, and I don't really know what to do. But I got really upset and really angry and mad.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you continued to work with him through 2017.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    I did.

    So, I thought he got the point, like, that it can never happen again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, in December, you were on another travel — trip with him.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Yes, there were some small incidents in between there. But, yes, we were at the Reagan security forum, the defense forum.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In California.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he asked you — he showed up at your hotel room outside the door.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you let him in?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Yes.

    So, no, it was after the dinner that — and it was a great event. The whole forum went really, really well. And so, as I was preparing to go to sleep for the evening, I was putting on face cream, and I get a knock on the door.

    And I thought, well, it's as probably the aide or the COMO or the security detail.

    And it was him. And he just walked in my room.

    And I'm like thinking something was wrong. Like, did something happen? Did I screw up? Did I not meet the standard or something for that day? And he's like: "No, no, I just want to talk."

    He had come into my room with his work binder. And so he's like: "I just want to talk."

    And I'm like, OK. So he sat on a bed and he asked me to sit next to him. And I was really confused then. I was, like, oh, this is sort of weird, but I don't know what's going to happen, but, you know, everything's been going really well, so I wasn't afraid.

    Then he took my hand. And I stood up. And I was, like, "No," and he grabbed me. He stood up and started kissing me passionately. And — and he wouldn't stop, even though I said — he said he wanted to make love to me. I said, "I — that's not going to happen."

    Like, I think I might have said: "No, you want to have sex."

    And he like: "No, I want to make love."

    And I'm like just trying to get loose from him. And I really couldn't. And he said: "Well, you like it. You know you're responding to this. You like it." And I said: "No, I'm not. I don't like it."

    He proceeded to still kiss me and hold me pretty tight and touch me on the butt and some other areas. And then, finally, he was grinding on my leg, which was kind of weird. And then he ejaculated after a while.

    And so I was mortified. I pushed him off. I was really scared at that point. Like, at that point, I wasn't, like, physically scared, but now this has gone through a whole other level of…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is your superior officer.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    This is a four-star general.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A four-star general.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    I'm a colonel. He's a 6'4" man. I'm 5'7". This crossed the line in a big way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you didn't report it to anyone, is that right, at the time?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    That's correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why not?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    So, I didn't really feel like I was comfortable with having a venue to report it. His security detail, they're there to protect him, not me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you thought that you would just keep it to yourself?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    I did. I thought really — in the June incident, I thought he got the point and that it would — that it really never would happen again.

    I know he does love his wife, so I was, like, oh, this is just sort of an infatuation. And so I was just really confused.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You — as you know, General Hyten completely denies this. We heard what he said just a moment ago. He says it never happened.

    And then you have the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. They looked into this.

    And I'm quoting. They said: "We spoke to 53 people in three countries and 13 states and reviewed thousands of e-mails," but said they concluded — quote — "There was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct."

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    So, that's not exactly true.

    So, Air Force Office of Special Investigations' reports do not make those type of determinations. They are fact-gatherers. They present the facts.

    They did corroborate every single thing I said in my sworn statement that everything that I said happened. There were some other things to corroborate, less the sex acts, which I went in saying, this is — this will probably be a he said/she said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you finally did go public after he was nominated for this position as vice chair.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    So, I didn't go public. I made an appropriate…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You made…

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Yes, so, through discussing the issue with the Department of Defense inspector general, who had asked me for some more information, I had been dealing with them on the other investigations that were — had been concluded.

    And they said: "Look, if there's something more, you need to tell us now."

    I talked to my boss and said — you know, kind of hinted around, "This is kind of what it is." And he's like: "That's a tough choice. Think about it hard. And if you do decide, we will send it through the I.G. first, and then they will — we will" — it would go to a law enforcement agency."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what do you make, when all is said and done, Colonel Spletstoser, of how this was handled by the military?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    The agents in charge admitted they were being rushed and there was a lot of pressure to make this kind of — get it done quick.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you — the public, people watching you right now are going to say, this is her version of events vs. his version.

    Is that how you see it? Is it she said/he said, or is it more than that?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    I went in and said, basically, look, this is going to be hard to prove the actual sex act, but here you're going to find other stuff.

    And they did. When they said there was insufficient evidence to charge him, that investigation uncovered a whole lot of things about General Hyten's leadership style. And, at a minimum…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean negative?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Negative.

    It corroborated evidence where he was untruthful in his OSI interview, and that was corroborated by at least 12 statements, not — that were in that investigation.

    It was also corroborated. I mean, he could have been charged with dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming, failure to maintain good order and discipline, and — this is the hardest one, because he always talked about, oh, his red line was treating people with dignity and respect.

    But I would argue he didn't treat me with dignity and respect at all by doing that or the way I was treated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You also said yesterday, Colonel, that — you said you're doing this so that General Hyten doesn't do this when he's — if he is confirmed as the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    So, the bottom line for me, I felt like it was a moral responsibility.

    At that point, like, when his nomination was announced, it's — because he told me he was retiring. My replacement was a man. His timeline was short.

    I took him seriously when he said that. And then he gets nominated, and now that fundamentally changes the equation.

    And that's — I was really upset. And that's when I had a conversation with my brother and my boss and said, look, what should I do?

    And it became sort of a responsibility to report it, so people know and that it would ensure that he didn't get the opportunity to do this to somebody else for the next four years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What signal do you think this sends to other women, or men, who are the victims of sexual assault in the military?

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    It basically says, look, if your boss is a general officer, no matter what you do, you won't be taken seriously, despite the evidence.

    It means that they will try to blame, shame and discredit you, because the OSI investigation didn't investigate him. It really did — it was victim-focused, like trying to discredit me. And it failed to do that.

    But it also says, hey, not only will we not believe you and we will discredit you along the way, but we will probably let him get promoted, too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Kathryn Spletstoser:

    Thank you.

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