The Cable

Hagel loses more GOP votes due to hearing

Several more Republican senators tell The Cable have decided to oppose the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense after hearing him testify Thursday.

Hagel's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee was often contentious and combative as the nominee sought to assuage Republicans about some of his previous controversial statements while defending other positions he has taken over his decades of public and private service. For example, Hagel apologized for using the term "Jewish lobby" and said that the pro-Israel lobby "influences" rather than "intimidates" Congress, correcting the record on comments he made years ago to Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller.

But Hagel's comments on subjects ranging from Iran to Iraq to nuclear weapons were apparently not well-received by the GOP caucus, and several Republican senators told The Cable they were more inclined to opposed Hagel's nomination after his performance at the hearing.

Sen. John McCain was publicly displeased when Hagel refused to provide a yes-or-no answer when the Arizona senator asked him if he were wrong about opposing the U.S. surge of troops to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

"I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer," McCain said.

"Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today," Hagel responded

"I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not," McCain said.

In the hallways of the Capitol building, The Cable caught up with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had been noncommittal but now said that he was very likely to vote against Hagel.

"It's not looking good," Graham said. "I don't think he's been consistent over time on major issues."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is not on the committee, but he told The Cable he watched it on television and concluded he would definitely vote against Hagel's confirmation.

"I don't think he's going to be able the questions I'm going to have. I saw the hearing and I won't be able to support him," Rubio said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) got into a heated exchange with Hagel at the hearing over the latter's participation in the Global Zero report, which calls for steep reductions in U.S. nuclear stockpiles. Sessions and Hagel debated whether the report actually calls for unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear armament or just suggests that as one possible option.

"But here's the key part of all this -- and by the way, this was summarized in a letter to President Obama in 2009 -- bilateral, never unilateral -- nothing was ever suggested on a unilateral basis to take down our arsenal -- negotiated, verifiable," Hagel said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Hagel on the issue at Thursday's press briefing.

"The position that Senator Hagel has taken on nuclear weapons is the same position that President Kennedy took. It is the same position that President Ronald Reagan took. It is the same position that, you know, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have taken. And it is the same position the president, this president, expressed in his speech in Prague," Carney said. "You know, the world would be a better place if we could rid it of nuclear weapons. Until that time comes about, we maintain the most serious and credible nuclear deterrent, as we should."

Meanwhile, as The Cable reported Wednesday, the White House is preparing to ask Russia to start a new round of nuclear-reduction negotiations and is also examining options for unilateral reductions if the Russians don't agree.

"I was a little uneasy about Hagel's answers," Sessions told The Cable about the exchange. "I thought he treated it too lightly and suggested far too readily that there's no conflict between the Global Zero report and what the Department of Defense and the president's position is on nuclear weapons."

Hagel also stumbled by saying he supported President Barack Obama's policy of containment with Iran, before Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) corrected him and said that the administration's policy was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, not to contain a nuclear Iran.

Even some GOP senators who did not watch the hearing expressed new opposition to the Hagel nomination Thursday.

"I have serious reservations about it," Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) told The Cable. "I know Chuck. He's a good guy. I like him personally. But I have serious reservations about him becoming the secretary of defense."

Hagel still enjoys the support of all the Senate Democrats who have spoken publicly about the nomination and one GOP senator, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). A filibuster of his nomination, which is unlikely, would only be possible if almost every GOP senator opposes his nomination.

The hearing stretched late into the afternoon Thursday and the committee left open the possibility for a closed hearing to follow. A vote on the nomination in committee is not expected this week, but may fall along party lines.

When the Hagel nomination does come before the full Senate, even non-committee Republicans say they will look back on today's testimony when making their decision.

"What I told Senator Hagel in our meeting is that I was going to listen very carefully for the hearing today," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

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The Cable

Pentagon doesn’t know if it’s buying Iranian oil in Afghanistan

The Defense Department has no idea whether or not it is violating U.S. sanctions by indirectly purchasing Iranian oil for the Afghan security forces, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The United States paid for the purchase and delivery of fuel to the Afghan security forces for years, totaling $1.1 billion for just the Afghan army since 2007. But the Pentagon's lack of internal controls means that some of that fuel might have come from Iran, the SIGAR office found. New checks and balances were put in place last year, but there is still a risk that U.S. taxpayer funds are being sent to Iran.

"DOD's lack of visibility-until recently-over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns," the new report stated. "DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions."

The SIGAR office was following up on a few allegations of improprieties with the purchase of fuel for the Afghan forces from undisclosed sources. SIGAR didn't find any direct evidence that sanctions against Iran were being violated, but rather issued the report as a warning that the risk of sanctions violations exists.

Between 2007 and 2012, there is no information on where the fuel that America was buying for the Afghan security forces was coming from, the report notes.

"During that time, [the Defense Department] did not require vendors to provide information on the sources of fuel or certify that their fuel purchases complied with U.S. sanctions prohibiting transactions with Iran," the report says.

New purchasing agreements signed last year included a new certification process that requires the contractors who use American money to purchase fuel for the Afghan forces to certify where that fuel is coming from. But there's no clarity on what exactly those contractors must do to validate their certifications and what oversight the U.S. government can perform to make sure the certifications are accurate, SIGAR officials told The Cable.

"Our report again demonstrates the critical importance that oversight plays in the contracting process," Special Inspector General John F. Sopko told The Cable in a statement. "It is essential that the Department of Defense continues to implement strict controls over the fuel supply process to ensure taxpayer funds are not used in violation of Iranian sanctions."

Funding for fuel for the Afghan security forces comes from the Afghan Security Forces Fund, which cost U.S. taxpayers $47.7 billion between 2007 and 2012. The Pentagon plans to give the Afghan security forces another $2.8 billion for fuel between 2014 and 2018, the SIGAR report states.

In a response to SIGAR, two Defense Department agencies noted that they have not uncovered any direct evidence that vendors are acquiring fuel from Iran but the department intends to implement additional inspection measures and oversight of contractors.