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Entries in Defense Secretary (8)

Thursday
Feb142013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel? Not So Fast

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was hoping Thursday would be his last day at the Pentagon.  The White House was hoping it would have a new Defense Department secretary by Friday.

But not so fast.  It now looks like Democrats don’t have the votes to get Hagel confirmed -- at least not yet.

That’s because Republicans are determined to block a straight up-or-down vote -- at least for now -- until Hagel turns over more information on his financial disclosure form and the Obama administration answers more questions about last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Democrats are attempting to force a clean vote by Friday, but will need 60 votes to overcome Republican objections.  And, as of right now, top Senate Democratic aides say they fear they don’t have the votes.

Ultimately, it would seem that Hagel is a shoe-in: All 55 Senate Democrats support him and so do two Republicans (Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi).  Three others have suggested they might oppose him but would not filibuster his nomination (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said the same thing.

But here’s the catch: Republicans are saying Hagel and the White House have stonewalled their requests for documents related to his nomination and that’s why they won’t allow a vote at this time.

An aide to Blunt told ABC News that the senator does not think there should be a vote this week because Hagel, 66, has not turned over all the requested information and, Blunt believes, the Senate has not fully debated the nomination.

The most serious issue is a Feb. 6 letter signed by 20 senators demanding more information on his financial disclosure (speeches, foreign income, etc.).  Hagel and the White House have refused to comply. 

Others, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are demanding more information on Benghazi.

Panetta has made no secret of his desire to get back to his home in Monterey, Calif., but a senior Defense Department official told ABC News that Panetta is prepared to stay in office until Hagel is confirmed. 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan072013

President Obama Nominates Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama nominated former senator Chuck Hagel to be his next Secretary of Defense on Monday.

Obama on Monday also named counterterrorism advisor John Brennan as the new CIA director to replace David Petraeus, rounding out an overhaul of his national security team.

Hagel, 66, is a decorated Vietnam veteran and businessman who served in the senate from 1997 to 2009. After having sat on that chamber’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, he has in recent years gathered praise from current and former diplomats for his work on Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board as well as the policy board of the current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

But the former lawmaker faces an upscale battle in the coming confirmation hearings in Congress.  Critics on both sides of the aisle have taken aim at his record toward Israel and what some have called a lack of experience necessary to lead the sprawling Pentagon bureaucracy or its operations.

Progressives have also expressed concern about comments he made in 1998, questioning whether an “openly, aggressively gay” James Hormel could be nominated to an ambassador position by then-President Clinton.  Hagel apologized for the comments last month, adding that he also supported gays in the military -- a position he once opposed.

The friction with his former colleagues has left a degree of uncertainty in the air going into the hearings.  Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell demurred when asked whether he would support the man who, in 2008, he had championed for his candidness and stature in foreign policy.

“I’m going to wait and see how the hearings go and see whether Chuck’s views square with the job he would be nominated to do,” McConnell told George Stephanopoulos.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was more blunt in his opposition to Hagel on CNN.  The Georgia Republican called Hagel an “in your face nomination,” and said he “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”

If confirmed, Hagel will join a crop of new cabinet members expected to join the president in his second term, including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was nominated in December to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec312012

Chuck Hagel Still on Obama's Radar for Defense Chief

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama is still weighing his choices to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and apparently hasn't discounted Chuck Hagel, even as some critics feel the former Nebraska senator's past opinions disqualify him for the job.

Obama told NBC's Meet the Press in a taped interview Sunday that nothing in Hagel's background would preclude him from becoming defense chief.

According to the president, Hagel "is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate [and] somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam."

Having served with Hagel in the Senate for four years, Obama called the former lawmaker "a patriot."

Some Republicans and Democrats believe that Hagel didn't take a strong enough position on support for Israel or sanctions against Iran while senator. 

Hagel also came under fire for a 1998 statement he made that an "openly, aggressive gay" man should not represent the U.S. as an overseas ambassador.  In this case, it was James C. Hormel, who became envoy to Luxembourg.

Asked about that, Obama said that Hagel has since apologized and that attitudes about gays and lesbians serving for the government and in the military have undergone an evolution that the president helped promote.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr162012

Panetta Introduces Initiatives to Fight Sexual Assault in the Military

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon proposed initiatives Monday aimed at curtailing sexual assault in the armed forces. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the measures on Capitol Hill after closed-door meetings on the issue with members of Congress.

Calling the crime a “violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for,” Panetta said he hoped Congress would adopt the package into the 2012 defense budget.

At least one key measure will be enacted immediately by the secretary’s own executive order. Central to the proposed regulations is the elevation of the most serious reports to the attention of a Special Court Martial Convening Authority, an officer that holds at least the rank of colonel. Panetta says the heightened status would keep cases from being forgotten at the unit level.

“At the local unit level sometimes these matters are put aside, they’re not followed up with,” Panetta said. “This requires that any time a complaint is received that it is referred up the chain of command for action.”

Panetta said he plans to issue the mandate in the next few days.

In addition to new training for troops and their commanders, the proposed regulations include new centralized records of disciplinary proceedings stemming from incidents, as well as more therapeutic outlets for victims. The Pentagon will also provide investigators specially trained for dealing with assault victims and evidence collection -- what the department is calling “Special Victims Unit” capabilities.

While admitting there was no “silver bullet” to curtailing sexual assault, Panetta said responsibility for prevention lay with every service member from the top down.

“The most important thing we can do is prosecute the offenders, deal with those who have broken the law,” he said.

Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were joined at the press conference by members of the Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. Co-chair Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said every lawmaker present had their own stories from military constituents.

“For me it was a nurse, someone who had served multiple times both in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” she said. “When I asked if it were true, the statistics, she said, ‘Ma’am, I am more afraid of my own soldiers than I am of the enemy.’”

Tsongas said she hoped the measures would curtail “the same alarming statistics that we hear over and over again.”

The announcement comes days after a Defense Department report indicated incidents of sexual assault in the military had risen slightly in the last year. In a report issued Friday the Pentagon said 3,192 claims involving U.S. service members as perpetrators or victims had been reported in budget year 2011, an uptick of one percent since 2010. The trend has stayed relatively the same since 2009, which saw 3,230 reports filed.

The military says 56 percent of incidents are carried out by service members against their peers. An estimated 86 percent of incidents are not reported.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr162012

Panetta Regrets Cost of His Weekend Trips to California as Defense Secretary

Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday he regrets the high cost of his weekend travels to California, and is looking for ways to save money on flights that have totaled about $860,000 since he came to the Pentagon last July.

Throughout his Washington career, Panetta has routinely returned to his walnut farm in Monterey, Calif., on weekends.  He did so as a congressman, as a cabinet member and as chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

However, in the post-9/11 world the defense secretary is obliged to be reachable to take secure communications whenever he travels, which means he can’t take commercial flights as he did in the past.

Now, Panetta often takes a small military jet. The 10-hour roundtrip flights between Washington and California are estimated to cost $32,000 each, but Panetta is only required to pay the cost of a commercial ticket for himself, about $630 a flight.

At a Pentagon briefing with reporters Monday, Panetta said that he regrets the trips to California add costs to taxpayers. He said he is looking for savings. He also defended the trips, saying his wife and  family are in California and that “it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight.”

“I regret that it does -- you know, that it does add costs that the taxpayer has to pick up,” Panetta said Monday. “A taxpayer would have to pick up those costs with any secretary of state or secretary of defense. But having said that, I am trying to look at what are -- the alternatives here that I can look at that might possibly be able to save funds and, at the same time, be able to fulfill my responsibilities, not only to my job, but to my family.”

The Pentagon says Panetta has made 27 roundtrip flights since becoming secretary of defense in July.  The cost of operating the flights is usually $3,200 an hour.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, came to Panetta’s defense at Monday’s briefing.

“Let me help the boss here, because if I couldn’t get a hold of him, we’d have a really different relationship,” said Dempsey.  He added that Panetta “doesn’t get much rest in California, based on the number of times I know that I’m in contact with him.”

He also pointed out that Panetta often tacks on visits to military bases to the weekend trips home, “so it’s not an out and back.”  He added, “This is not about him just using that airplane to get himself back and forth to the West Coast every weekend.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun302011

Robert Gates to Finish Tenure as Defense Secretary

Charles Dharapak - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It's likely that from his office Thursday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates could see the military bands and honor guards gathered on a parade field to practice the pomp and circumstance of a departure ceremony to be held in his honor as he leaves the Pentagon for the last time.

On Thursday, Gates will finish out a four and half year tenure as Defense Secretary that began when President George W. Bush asked him to return to government service and replace Donald Rumsfeld.

A member of the Iraq Study Group tasked by Congress to review the then-worsening U.S. military situation in Iraq; Gates said at the outset that as Defense Secretary he would focus on righting the situation  there. A surge of troops was eventually authorized by President Bush that helped turned the tide in Iraq. Gates credited the influx of troops with helping stabilize the country while a nascent Iraqi democractic government found its feet.

Since then, Gates has won praise from many quarters for taking on the Pentagon's bureaucracy, fighting for better care for servicemembers, cutting expensive weapons systems, and overseeing a similar troop surge in Afghanistan.  He will leave his post as one of the most popular Defense Secretaries in recent times.

Gates made history when he became the first Secretary of Defense to work for both a Republican and Democratic president after President Obama asked him to remain in his post for another year.  Two and a half years later, Gates will step down as Defense Secretary and turn the reins over to CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Gates started his long career in government service as a CIA analyst and eventually worked for eight presidents in various posts at the National Security Council and ultimately as CIA Director.  But it is the post as Defense Secretary that he has referred to as the most rewarding job he has had in his career.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb112011

Donald Rumsfeld: US Response to Egypt 'Confusing'

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized the Obama administration’s response to the crisis in Egypt Friday, calling it “confusing” and telling ABC News the United States’ diplomatic effort “certainly doesn’t give one confidence.”

In a radio interview, Rumsfeld was particularly critical of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s description of the Muslim Brootherhood as a “largely secular” during a House Intelligence Committee testimony Thursday that Clapper's office later had to clarify. 

“That is not something that is subject to debate,” Rumsfeld said of Clapper’s contention.   “That is something that we know a great deal about.”

Rumsfeld, however, did not fault CIA director Leon Panetta for pointing to news reports, suggesting during his testimony there was a “strong likelihood” that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would step down Thursday. 

“People who think they know the answer and publicly announce what they believe to be the case are often wrong,” Rumsfeld said, saying that the outcome of a volatile situation is not always possible to predict.

But the former defense secretary said official statements from Washington urging Mubarak to step aside have differed from what the administration’s special envoy, Frank Wisner, had been saying in Cairo.   This, Rumsfeld said, has proven to be “confusing.” 

“It certainly doesn’t give one confidence,” the former secretary said of the administration’s public steps.

“One doesn’t know precisely what’s taking place with private diplomacy -- what’s really most effective -- but certainly the public diplomacy has been somewhat confusing.”

Rumsfeld, who has known Mubarak for decades, responded carefully when asked whether he is a dictator.

“He clearly has perpetuated himself in office.   He clearly has hoped that his son would succeed him.   There have been a number of things that have inhibited freer political systems,” Rumsfeld said of the Egyptian president, stopping short of offering any further criticism of Mubarak.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb082011

Rumsfeld: 'Would've Been Better Off If I Had' Resigned Post-Abu Ghraib

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares that his biggest regret in office was not convincing President Bush to accept his resignation after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and said the country and the Pentagon probably "would've been better off" if he had left office in 2004.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Rumsfeld also said the enhanced interrogation techniques he approved for use on the so-called "20th hijacker" -- including forced stress positions and removal of "comfort items" -- produced invaluable intelligence.

But his biggest regret was staying in office during what he calls a period of "damaging distraction," as photos of abused detainees at Abu Ghraib circulated around the globe.  He twice wrote letters of resignation to the president, but was convinced to stay on both times.

"That was such a stain on our country," he told ABC News.  "To think that people in our custody were treated in that disgusting and perverted and ghastly way -- unacceptable way."

"There wasn't an easy target," he added.  "And so I stepped up and told the president I thought I should resign.  And I think probably he and the military and the Pentagon and the country would've been better off if I had."

Rumsfeld asserts that the harsh interrogation tactics he authorized for use against high-value terrorism suspects helped U.S. authorities save lives, including in the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani.

"Qahtani, who was the 20th hijacker, they say -- he gave a lot of information," Rumsfeld said.  "And it was very helpful to our interrogators and to the United States government in saving lives."

He added, "And I think that the fact that we haven't had an attack in a decade is a credit to that administration, the Bush administration, and to [President Bush]."

Still, he writes in his new memoir, Known and Unknown, which is being released Tuesday, that he was "surprised and troubled" that interrogators went further than his orders allowed in some cases, particularly in interrogating Qahtani at Guantanamo Bay.

Qahtani would be subjected to sexual humiliation and long periods of sleep deprivation and isolation while in custody at Guantanamo, and his heartbeat at one point dropped to 35 beats per minute.

Rumsfeld said he only learned the details of such treatment after the fact -- and that interrogators went further than he had authorized.

"I didn't approve any of that," Rumsfeld said in the interview.  "And when I found out that they had done some of those things, the people who had done things that had not been approved were dealt with.  They were stopped and prosecuted."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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