Chuck Hagel is still hiding

President Obama and Chuck Hagel

President Obama shakes hands with former Sen. Chuck Hagel (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Chuck Hagel and the White House seem to be playing switch-and-bait with the Senate Armed Services Committee. First, he couldn’t possibly provide information on donors and speeches. Then he said, well, maybe. Now it appears that he will stiff the Senate.

The Atlantic Council, the organization Hagel chairs, is one of the entities at issue. Its Web site lists a subset of its donors, some of which are foreign governmental entities. I have received no answer to my request for a complete list. (I am certain the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t have one, either.)

Hagel and/or the Atlantic Council could release the complete list of foreign governments and the names of foundations, religious charities, religious leaders and businessmen with ties to foreign governments, or other individuals associated with foreign governments or organizations. They have not. Hagel has withheld the identities of those who paid for speeches and foreign travel over the last five years.

Likewise, we don’t know the foreign investors in McCarthy Capital, Corsair Capital, Wolfensohn & Co., MIC Industries, National Interest Security and Elite Training and Security.

A disgusted Senate staffer e-mails: “The fact that the Atlantic Council is unable to simply release the Schedule B from their Form 990s over the last five years suggests they are concealing donors that could sink this nomination.” The list of foreign governments, even if that would be provided, is of little use by itself. The staffer explains, “Anybody in Washington who deals with foreign governments will tell you that the way they steer money to groups like the Atlantic Council is not through direct payments – it’s via business groups, foundations and wealthy individuals with close ties to them (ties that would be a simple Google search away from putting together).”

It is ironic that in the 2010 election President Obama decried the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, claiming it had undisclosed foreign donors who were trying to hijack the election; now he and Hagel are trying to do the same with the Pentagon.

Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is complaining that the Republican members of the committee are asking for too much data, beyond what is usually requested. But when nominated for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton and her husband provided voluminous information. Others have pointed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s own information request regarding Henry Kissinger’s appointment to the 9/11 commission. He refused to provide the material and was forced to withdraw from service.

At this point it is obvious that Hagel, with the White House’s indulgence, is intentionally withholding information from the committee that is easily accessible but apparently controversial. Levin may be compelled by the White House to hold his committee vote next week, but Republicans have every reason to do whatever is needed to prevent a nominee this unfit and uncooperative with the legitimate demands of the Senate confirmation process from reaching a position where he can do real damage (by incompetence, at the very least) to our national security and provide access to a host of shadowy figures whose identities Hagel is so insistent on concealing.

Liberal journalist Tom Ricks thinks it’s a 50-50 shot that Hagel withdraws:

He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.

That said, I don’t think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy? … Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.

Withdrawal would be the graceful way out. Otherwise, Republicans will be obliged to use every means available to stop him.

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