Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Obama picks another scribbler in Hagel

Is bad penmanship a prerequisite for President Obama’s second-term Cabinet?

Newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed off on a letter to a former Senate colleague this week with a scrawly, nearly illegible version of his signature. We’re pretty sure it’s his signature, at least, but we arrived at that only by deduction, based on its placement.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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(For The Post) - A letter from Chuck Hagel to Sen. Barbara Boxer.

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Was that remark caught on video at a private rally in New Hampshire about Scott Brown?

It appears he’s giving Treasury Secretary Jack Lew a run for his money.

Lew, whose John Hancock will grace every dollar bill being issued, was roundly mocked (including by the Loop) for his loopy signature.

Here’s a letter Hagel wrote to Sen. Barbara Boxer (he apparently wrote an identical one to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in response to a letter the two sent him, but only Boxer posted hers on her Web site).

Hagel added two friendly flourishes to the typewritten missive. In a slash of blue ink, he crossed out the formal address “Dear Senator Boxer” and replaced that with “Barbara.” That part we could read.

But his sign-off was nearly impossible to decipher. A strangely formed “C” starts the affair, which breaks down into a strange mountain range in the middle and ends with a spastic-looking shape that one could only vaguely recognize as a “k.” Could be, he was matching the informal tone of the opening by signing the note “Chuck.”

Or not. Others who’ve looked at it thought it was his full signature. Other guesses included “eskimo,” and one conspiracy-minded viewer read “CIA is OK.” What say you, Loop fans?

Hagel doesn’t have to sign all the dollar bills the way Lew does. But still, he has to put his pen to paper on occasion. Perhaps Obama should add a handwriting lesson to the next Cabinet meeting?

Present company . . .

The grilled-shrimp appetizer had just arrived at the 128th annual press-and-pols Gridiron Club dinner Saturday night when NAACP President Benjamin Jealous fell into conversation with a fellow white-tied dinner guest about the Supreme Court’s recent argument over the Voting Rights Act.

The distinguished-looking gentleman told Jealous he thought that NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer Debo P. Adegbile had done a fine job arguing that the law needed to be continued.

Sure, but, Jealous wondered aloud, what happened to the solicitor general? He was just awful.

Well, I am the solicitor general, replied Donald Verrilli Jr.

An apparently mortified Jealous apologized profusely and excused himself from the table for what seemed to folks like an awfully long time, returning just about when the famous Gridiron petits fours arrived with coffee.

Jealous resumed apologizing on his return.

We heard this story from two separate witnesses who overheard every word of the only-in-Washington conversation. Jealous, however, doesn’t remember it that way. “It didn’t happen,” an NAACP spokesman tells the Loop.

Either way, there’s a moral to the story: In Washington, always know who you’re speaking to. (And who’s within earshot.)

Baby steps

Reporters at the State Department — and around the world — are awaiting the first televised briefing from new spokeswoman Jen Psaki .

Psaki, a former Obama White House deputy communications director and more recently the 2012 traveling campaign press secretary, has been on the job a couple of weeks now.

Patience — and some historical perspective — is needed here. We wrote 20 years ago that, a month into the same job, Mike McCurry , who later went to the White House, had “not been deemed ready for prime time to conduct the noon televised briefing.”

The simple reason was that McCurry had not graduated from the famed Richard A. Boucher Ecole du Dizinformatsiya (school of disinformation, as it was jokingly dubbed), named for the then-current and widely admired spokesman.

The Boucher School is no joke, McCurry recalled Monday. “The heart of the training is to sit in the morning preparations with senior officials then leave the building and skip the briefing. When you return, colleagues do a mock briefing from the actual transcript, asking the same questions the reporters asked that day.

“The test is to see if you give the right answers,” he said, so as not to spark some international crisis. “There’s a level of substance and seriousness that you don’t find at the theater of the absurd,” he added, referring to the White House.

The hardest part comes when the cameras are off and reporters come up to chat on background. You have to be able to translate from diplo-speak on camera into plain English and then make reporters think they got useful news — even if they didn’t.

The legendary Boucher, State’s longest-serving public affairs chief, went on to senior-most posts, including assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs. He’s now deputy secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is conveniently headquartered in Paris.

As for Psaki, we’ve heard the plan is for the new kid to shadow current spokeswoman Victoria Nuland “until Jen learns to drive.”

Shouldn’t take much longer.

A wide stance

Seems former senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) might be in an uphill battle in federal court here as he fights a Federal Election Commission claim that he improperly converted $217,000 in campaign funds to pay for his legal defense in that 2007 sex-sting arrest in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

Craig, who pleaded guilty to disorderly-conduct charges in the case, argues that Senate rules permit reimbursement for any costs while on official travel. (He was heading back from his home to Washington.)

But at a hearing Monday on the FEC suit, Judge Amy Berman Jackson seemed skeptical of that claim, according to an Associated Press account. She noted that Craig’s lawyers had written in 2007 that the incident had nothing to do with his Senate duties.

Still, Craig surely was en route to Washington, though he may have taken a detour of sorts at one point in the airport as he went to get to his connecting flight.

Best we were able to determine at the time — judging from what sources told us were the usual arrival and departure gates for his flights — Craig may have passed not one, not two, not three, but four bathrooms at the airport along the way before choosing the very one that an airport official called “the biggest hotspot” for sexual encounters.

Okay, so maybe a slightly circuitous route, but still kinda on his way.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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