The Cable

McCain lifts hold on Lippert

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has lifted his hold on the nomination of Obama confidant Mark Lippert to become the next top Pentagon official for Asia.

Last October, President Obama nominated Lippert to be the next assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, replacing Gen. Chip Gregson. In December, McCain wrote to Lippert to demand answers on the latter's alleged internal feud with Gen. Jim Jones when they both worked at the National Security Council (NSC).

"In several passages of his book Obama's Wars, published in 2010, Bob Woodward discusses your official relationship with [National Security Advisor] General James L. Jones and offers a disturbing portrayal of your actions that could be described as arrogant and disloyal," McCain wrote to Lippert in December, in a letter obtained by The Cable.

"Your actions while working at the NSC are an important indicator of your fundamental qualification to carry out the duties of the critically important position for which you have been nominated," McCain wrote.

He then listed 21 specific questions for Lippert to answer in written form, dealing with almost every juicy anecdote related to White House infighting found in Woodward's book. McCain wanted to know exactly how Lippert interacted with Jones and with political advisors at the White House. He also wanted to know if Jones had power over Lippert -- or if it was the other way around.

Today, an aide to McCain confirmed to The Cable that the hold had been removed.

"Senator McCain examined Mr. Lippert's answers to his questions and lifted the hold," the aide said.

The Lippert nomination now goes to the Senate floor, where it could sit a while because all nominations are stalled due to Republican anger at the administration's recess appointment of Robert Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Lippert was one of Obama's earliest and closest advisors on foreign policy, having been with the president since his days as a senator. He was a key figure in Obama's presidential campaign and served as chief of staff of the NSC, a position that had not existed in George W. Bush's administration but which Obama resurrected in 2009.

If confirmed, Lippert takes over the Asia shop at the Pentagon for Peter Lavoy, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense who has been acting as the assistant secretary for some time. That shop is also losing another top official soon: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer is leaving to join the Senate Foreign Committee Relations staff as a senior advisor and counselor.

No word yet on who will replace Schiffer, but in the meantime his duties will fall to Dave Helvey, the principal director of that office.

"As the Senate gears up to consider this year's foreign aid budget, Michael's extensive experience as a senior official and former Senate staffer will help committee efforts to preserve investments that reduce security threats, open markets for American businesses, and create opportunities for American leadership," Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in a statement.

SFRC also took on another administration official recently,  Alex Lee, a Foreign Service officer who is now detailed to the committee.

Lee recently returned from Kabul but has spent most of his career in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He has served throughout Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia where he was head of the political section, Cuba where he was deputy chief of mission of the U.S. interest section, and most recently as office director for Mexican affairs. 

"Alex's three-plus decades of service throughout Latin America will be invaluable to the Committee as we focus on this critical region," said Kerry.

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