Senators were tipped off that Hagel departed from his prepared remarks and made controversial comments to the J Street Conference. In exchanges with Senate Armed Services Committee staff, J Street volunteered the prepared remarks and said it decided not to provide the complete video for fear that Hagel’s remarks would be taken out of context.
It is extraordinary that any group would deny material relevant to a confirmation hearing, especially in the case of public remarks on a highly relevant topic. Moreover, for J Street to, in essence, accuse the Senate of potentially mishandling evidence is jaw-dropping.
J Street’s behavior certainly suggests that there is something problematic in the speech and that it is unfavorable to Hagel. It also highlights J Street’s role not as an independent advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship but rather as a surrogate for the White House and/or its nominee, both of which have come under fire from senators and mainstream pro-Israel groups for his Israel comments and votes.
J Street will be forced to provide the tape if the Armed Services Committee issues a subpoena, of course. J Street did not respond to request for comment, declining to explain why it was preventing access to the material.
Update (6:50 p.m.): Late this afternoon, a few hours after this post was published, J Street contacted the Senate Armed Services Committee to report it would post the entire video of Hagel’s 2009 speech online.