Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hagel Omitted two Speeches on Middle East from Senate Disclosure Forms

by James Rosen

In the supporting documents he turned over to Senate investigators as part of his confirmation process, Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel did not disclose at least two recent speeches on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Fox News has confirmed.

Obama administration sources and lawmakers said Hagel was required to declare to the Senate Armed Services Committee any "formal speeches" he had given since the start of January 2008. That Hagel appears not to have declared the two speeches from 2008 could further jeopardize his nomination with Senate Republicans, who have already threatened to block the nomination because they believe Hagel has not turned over enough financial data.

An Obama administration official who has worked with the senator during his confirmation process maintained that Hagel has gone "above and beyond" the Senate's requirements, by supplying to the Armed Services Committee whatever evidence he could find – prepared remarks, transcripts, and the like – for both formal and "informal" speeches.

Apprised by Fox News of the two speaking dates from 2008, however, the official appeared not to have heard about them. The aide later responded that Hagel did not disclose these two speaking events because neither were formal speeches. "It's simply not true to suggest there was any attempt to hide anything," the aide told Fox News. "One event was at an academic institute – Georgetown, a Jesuit university. The other was with an organization that combats discrimination."

According to materials and documents compiled by Steven Emerson's Investigative Project on Terrorism and provided to Fox News on Monday, Hagel appeared before the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on June 13, 2008, serving as keynote speaker at the group's convention that year. The specific session the former two-term Nebraska senator addressed was a fundraising reception for ADC's political action committee.

Although the contents of Hagel's speech have not surfaced, the ADC has a history of controversial statements about Israel and of accepting foreign funds. In July 2006, a writer on ADC's website identified Hagel as the lone member in Congress "willing to stand up to the Israeli Lobby." In the same posting, entitled "Facts and Commentary About the Current Conflict Between Israel and Lebanon," James G. Abourezk said President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "have a lot of blood on their hands for remaining silent and for re-arming Israel which allows the slaughter [of Arabs] to continue." A former Democratic senator from South Dakota, Abourezk was the first Arab-American to serve in the Senate.

The records compiled by the Investigative Project on Terrorism also show that Hagel spoke at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies on September 22, 2008. The list of speeches the nominee has given since January 1, 2008 that Hagel himself submitted to the Armed Services Committee in support of his nomination does not include the ADC or Georgetown events. The contents of Hagel's speeches at these locations have not surfaced.

Researchers at the Investigative Project on Terrorism have also compiled evidence that Hagel spoke frequently to pro-Arab audiences in 2007, a time that predates the period which the nominee was required to flesh out on his confirmation forms.

According to these records, examined by Fox News, Hagel addressed Rutgers University's Center for Middle East Studies on March 2, 2007, at an event co-sponsored by the American Iranian Council. On April 27, 2007, the senator addressed the Arab American Institute in Washington, during its annual "Spirit of Humanity" awards ceremony in honor the late poet Kahlil Gibran. The AAI is a non-profit organization headed by pollster James Zogby.

Similarly, on October 25, 2007 – in an event that has been previously reported but of which Fox News has obtained a partial MP3 recording – Hagel addressed the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR). Another non-profit based in Washington, NCUSAR is described by the Investigative Project on Terrorism as "a de facto propaganda arm of the Arab world." Conferences hosted by the group have reportedly featured speakers who have accused Israel of waging campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide," and referred to "the Jewish lobby" – the very term for which Hagel, at his confirmation hearing last month, expressed regret at having used in a 2006 interview.

Asked during a question-and-answer session at the NCUSAR event whether Washington could still be a leader in achieving Arab-Israeli peace, Hagel replied: "I think the United States has done great damage to itself in that role of an honest broker….[I]f you have a situation where one side doesn't trust you or one side thinks that you're siding with the other side, in particular the Israeli-Arab conflict, then…we are essentially unable to be a so-called honest broker." Hagel at the event went on to call Israel "a strong ally" and to say that the U.S. "should be" a strong ally of Israel. However, he also stated, "[T]here's no question in the Arab-Israeli issue that Israel is a nation today as a result of the United States" and said that American support for the Israelis cannot exist "at the sacrifice of our friendships with the Arabs."

These further disclosures about Hagel's speeches in recent years are likely to further inflame the confirmation process surrounding the decorated Vietnam veteran, whose performance at his confirmation hearing on January 31 is widely viewed as having been unimpressive. Republican senators, who have been clamoring for greater financial disclosure from the nominee, have been mulling, if no such disclosure is forthcoming, whether to stage a walkout during a planned vote on the nomination by the Armed Services Committee for this week.

The Obama administration official assisting Hagel in his nomination also pointed to a letter to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that Hagel wrote last week, in which Hagel said he has undertaken "an exhaustive search for all of my speaking engagements over the past five years." In an appendix to the Wicker letter, Hagel listed some two dozen speeches he has given through the Washington Speakers Bureau. He added that the company's clients often stipulated that Hagel's appearances before them would be off the record.

Still, that list did not include the two dates in 2008 that have not elsewhere been disclosed.

James Rosen


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