Pentagon campaign for Hagel questionable, expert says

The White House, not the Pentagon, should be making the political argument to the Senate to confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary, a government expert says.

The Washington Times reported Monday that the Pentagon sent briefing papers to senators on Saturday that called criticism of Mr. Hagel “myths” and sought to paint him as a hawk on Iran and an ally of Israel.

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, told The Times that, in his experience, the White House typically would issue such political documents and leave agencies — in this case the Pentagon — to provide basic information on nominees.

“I don’t recall agencies, per se, being out front like that on a high-profile nomination,” said Mr. Franc, a former Republican appointee in the federal government. “Usually the White House has a person they bring on or they have somebody already there in their legislative affairs shop who will oversee the nomination and the kind of materials the Pentagon is putting out would be coming from the White House with no markers indicating where it was from.

“There was a line between the people in the White House who the Hill saw as legitimately trying to advance the president’s choice and people who work in the agency,” he said.

Pentagon press secretary George Little defended the briefings.

“It’s prudent and perfectly reasonable for Pentagon personnel supporting the confirmation process to provide Congress with accurate information about Senator Hagel’s views on core issues facing the Department of Defense,” Mr. Little told The Times. “It’s standard practice for the Department to provide confirmation support to all nominees, including those who are nominated for the position of secretary.”

One of the briefing papers sent by the Pentagon essentially makes the political argument that Mr. Hagel should be confirmed because his critics are spouting “myths.”

Chuck Hagel’s Record: Myths and Facts” lists six-so called myths, such as he does not support Israel and is soft on Iran — the very criticism coming from some Republican senators and Washington’s Israel lobby.

The papers also argue that he is tough on Israel’s enemies, the Iranian-backed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and has no plans to gut the defense budget.

“For it to come from the Pentagon, it might suggest the White House is a little shy about being front and center about this in getting the kind of votes they need to get,” Mr. Franc said. “It may be they want to hide behind the credibility that comes with somebody being in the Pentagon to advance the nomination.

“Agencies are not supposed to be crossing the line. That tends to be the province of the White House.”

A former Republican legislative affairs official told The Times there are no rules for how the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs may promote a nominee.

The office currently is headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Elizabeth L. King, a former aide to Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

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