Opponents' requests for financial documents on Middle East donors are stonewalled.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to proceed on Tuesday with a committee vote on the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as the next Secretary of Defense. Senator Levin has brushed aside objections from at least 25 Senate Republicans that a vote is premature until Hagel releases more information about whether the entities he has been affiliated with since leaving the Senate in 2009 have received money from foreign groups or governments.
"The committee cannot have two different sets of financial disclosure standards for nominees, one for Senator Hagel and one for other nominees," Levin wrote in a letter last Friday to the committee's ranking Republican, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe.
We can expect a committee vote largely along party lines. Since the Democrats hold a majority on the committee, Hagel should pass this hurdle and have his fate decided on the Senate floor where a Republican-led filibuster is possible. Senator Inhofe has threatened to use procedural roadblocks that would have to be overcome by a 60-vote super-majority. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also threatened to hold up a floor vote on Hagel until Senator Graham is satisfied that the full truth about the Benghazi debacle is revealed.
Republican senators are split on whether to try to prevent an up-or-down floor vote on Hagel's confirmation. Senator John McCain, while indicating on Fox News Sunday that he was presently inclined to vote no on Hagel's confirmation, has opposed the idea of a filibuster. “I just do not believe a filibuster is appropriate, and I would oppose such a move,” Senator McCain told reporters last week.
At least three other Republican Senators -- Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri -- have also come out against a filibuster. When also taking into account the two Republican senators who have declared their support for Senator Hagel's confirmation -- Senators Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi -- a filibuster or hold on the floor vote is unlikely to succeed. It will only delay the inevitable. The Obama administration is arguing that an immediate vote before the Senate recesses late this week is necessary for national security purposes, possibly to set grounds for a recess appointment if no vote is taken. However, in light of the Court of Appeals decision last month striking down President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board on constitutional grounds, Obama may not want to go that route again so soon after the court's ruling.
Filibusters cut both ways. A party in the minority may find itself regretting the day it set a precedent for filibustering a confirmation of the president's choice for an important cabinet post when the shoe is on the other foot. Nevertheless, while the nomination of Senator John Tower by President George H.W. Bush was rejected in a floor vote and not filibustered in 1989, Republicans can point to how roughly he was treated by Democrats over allegations regarding his private conduct and about possible conflicts of interest. After his defeat, Tower rebuked his former fellow senators with an unflattering comparison to Lebanon: "They're pretty straightforward what they do in Beirut. They hurl a grenade at someone or shoot a machine gun. Up here, it's a little more subtle, but just as ruthless, just as brutal. They kill you in a different way."
Even if Republicans, as expected, decide not to go forward with a filibuster, Hagel should be pressed to release more financial information before the final vote proceeds. Enough embarrassing information could start to come out that might lead Hagel to withdraw his name, rather than face the drip-by-drip disclosure of even more embarrassing information.
Senator McCain is plain wrong in his assertion that Hagel has provided sufficient financial information to meet disclosure requirements. After being prodded, Hagel did ask the Atlantic Council (which he chairs) to release information concerning foreign government and foreign entity donations. The Atlantic Council complied. But it barely scratches the surface.
The governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as five separate Turkish government entities, are on the list of donors. NATO, the European Commission and the governments of such Western countries as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Luxemburg and the United Kingdom are also listed as donors, but their trans-Atlantic focus makes sense while the interest of Arab states in financially supporting the Atlantic Council is far less clear. Turkey is a member of NATO, but it has been turning eastward in its foreign policy focus rather than toward Europe and the Atlantic. Why such an interest by Turkish government entities in the Atlantic Council?
Money can translate into influence. However, while the donor list looks fairly diverse on the surface, it is not possible to evaluate degrees of influence without knowing the specific amounts contributed by each donor.
Moreover, the information that the Atlantic Council made available to the Senate presents more questions than answers. For example, why are there so many separate Turkish government entities listed as donors, disproportionate to any other country? And why are so many of those Turkish government entities, which made separate donations, involved in the energy industry? When did these donations commence?
In February 2009, Chuck Hagel was elected chairman of the Atlantic Council. The very next year Chuck Hagel joined the Board of Directors of Chevron. Is it a mere coincidence that one of the Turkish donors - Turkish Petroleum Corporation - signed a major deal with Chevron for joint oil exploration in the Black Sea in 2010? The exploration phase is non-operated, but Chevron would become operator during any future development of the project. How about the deal that Chevron has entered into with Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish enclave for oil exploration, that could be followed by the construction of a pipeline for transporting oil from the enclave into Turkey? Turkey's Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), like the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, is on the Atlantic Council donor list.
Closer to home, Chevron received nearly $1.2 billion in contracts and grants from the Defense Department during fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012, according to an article last month in the San Francisco Chronicle. Will Chuck Hagel recuse himself as Secretary of Defense from involving himself in any decisions regarding the future of those contracts and grants even if, as expected, he resigns as a Chevron Board member and either sells or puts his Chevron stock into a blind trust?
The Saudi Arabian Khaled Juffali Company is another Atlantic Council donor. Khaled Juffali, Managing Partner of E. A. Juffali and Brothers Co. and Chairman of Khaled Juffali Company, was also co-chairman of a gala Atlantic Council dinner held in September 2010 in New York.
It so happens that while Chuck Hagel was teaching at the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Omar Shakir, the founder and president of Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel at Georgetown University, was a recipient of the school's Khaled Juffali Scholarship. Shakir was pursuing his masters degree in the Arab Studies Program at its School of Foreign Service in 2010. Fox News has just reported that in September of 2008, a few months before Hagel commenced his professorial duties at Georgetown, Hagel delivered a speech at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Hagel did not disclose this speech in materials he submitted to the Senate submitted to the Armed Services Committee, as well as another speech he had delivered to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in June of 2008.
It may be a complete coincidence that Kahled Juffali's name comes up in connection with two separate organizations with which Hagel has been affiliated. However, it is worth asking whether Hagel had any input into the decision of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he was given the title of "Distinguished Professor," to grant an avowed Israel hater with a scholarship funded by the same Saudi connections who were providing contributions to his Atlantic Council.
Surely, if John Tower had to go through such a brutal examination of his personal life that Tower would have preferred being in Beirut, Hagel's record deserves far more scrutiny than the Democratic Senate majority and President Obama appear ready to permit.
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