The unprecedented and Chuck Hagel

Article Highlights

  • Democrats have decried the “unprecedented” nature of the requests for info on Hagel. Unprecedented? Not really

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  • The Senate is well within its rights to ask for every document Hagel has ever touched

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The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is poised to force a committee vote on Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense tomorrow despite outstanding questions from Republican members regarding Hagel’s finances, speeches, receipt of foreign payments. Chairman Levin and other Democrats have decried the “unprecedented” nature of the requests. Unprecedented? Not really.

Levin and others, Vice President Biden included, have moaned over both the number and nature of the questions to Hagel. Well, perhaps by this Armed Services Committee, with this composition, under this chairman. But unprecedented? Hardly. Consider a nomination about which I have some knowledge, that of John Bolton to be the PermRep (ambassador) to the United Nations in 2005. There are two full file drawers upstairs from my office with some of the records of that nomination (pictured above). Questions for the record? I can’t count how many, but the files for them are more than five feet high, stacked. Sworn and transcribed committee interviews of individuals inside and outside government? Twenty-nine. Questions that many would consider inappropriate, including regarding conversations with then Secretary Rice, intra-departmental consultations, questions about recommendations to the Secretary or President, questions about decisions regarding participation in delegations, questions about public appearances at conferences, speeches before think tank conferences, the texts and drafts of speeches, reporting cables on Iran negotiations, frequency of communication with his supervisor, calendar entries to confirm meeting times, substantial and intrusive document requests and more. Questions bearing no relationship to Bolton’s qualifications to be U.N. PermRep? Here are a few:

  • Was he deposed in the Valerie Plame case? Nope.
  • How about in Democratic National Committee v Federal Election Commission? Nope.

Questions about foreign payments to Bolton or think tanks with which he was affiliated?

  • “As Vice President of the American Enterprise Institute or as a member of the board of directors of the Project for a New American Century, have you been involved in fundraising or contracting…?"
  • “During your tenure as President of the National Policy Forum, the NPF received a contribution […] from the Pacific Cultural Foundation…”

Questions about ancient history?

  • “Did you file false and misleading affidavits with Lawrence Walsh, Special Prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case?”  (Kids, ask your parents.)  Bolton’s answer: “I filed no affidavits.”
  • “What post –employment restrictions applied to you as a former General Counsel of USAID?”  (He was at AID 1981-2)

From whom did most of these questions come? Then senators Joe Biden and John Kerry.

Now I’ll say this: John Bolton is meticulous. Hagel, who has “lost”, “never had” and “has no knowledge of” much of what he has done over the last few years, is clearly, er, not. But much as he claimed not to have wanted the SecDef position (despite having lobbied for it using an actual lobbying firm), suggesting that he gave most of his speeches extemporaneously or from notes is, simply, incredible.

The Senate is well within its rights to ask for every document Hagel has ever touched, every speech he has ever given and every donation he ever solicited. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again, and if he doesn’t want to comply, then he shouldn’t have lobbied to become a member of Barack Obama’s cabinet.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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