The Cable

GOP senators call for delay in Hagel committee vote

Two senior GOP members of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable Tuesday that they won't consent to a committee vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense until the former Nebraska senator discloses all of his recent paid speeches and until an allegation of misconduct in his Senate office is fully investigated.

At Hagel's Jan. 31 confirmation hearing, ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) noted that the committee had requested Hagel provide all of the speeches he had delivered over the last five years, since he left the Senate, including disclosing who paid him for them. Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) gave Hagel a deadline of Monday at 5 p.m. to provide more information for the record. Hagel testified that many of his speeches were private, not videotaped, and often did not include prepared remarks, but that he would comply with all legal requirements.

On Tuesday afternoon, committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told The Cable that the deadline had passed and that the committee had not been given the information it requested, specifically on who paid Hagel to give speeches. "A number of senators wrote and asked for additional financial information that I thought was reasonable and the chairman agreed and directed that information be provided by yesterday. It has not been provided. Those were reasonable requests," Sessions said. "I believe the request for financial information was legitimate and should be complied with before a vote takes place."

Sessions also told The Cable that he was waiting for the results of a previously undisclosed investigation by the Republican committee staff into a complaint by a former aide involving another Hagel aide. Three GOP congressional aides confirmed that the committee was looking into the complaint, although there is no evidence that Hagel was directly involved or even was aware of the incident in question.

The aides said that over the last two weeks, the minority committee staff had interviewed several former Hagel staffers who came forward to complain about how the former senator had managed his office. The staff found none of their complaints worth pursuing aside from that of the one former junior female staffer, whom the committee interviewed late last month. According to Sessions and all three aides, the female staffer told the committee she had been sexually harassed by a senior male staffer while working in Hagel's office in 2007. One aide said the alleged harassment included "inappropriate statements and conduct."

Neither the accuser nor the accused responded to requests for comment, but The Cable spoke with Lou Ann Linehan, Hagel's chief of staff at the time of the alleged incident.

"I remember handling it, I thought it was handled. I did not bring it to the senator. I would not have taken it to the senator unless it required a termination and that wasn't the case," she said. "The term sexual harassment shocks me a little bit. I wouldn't have put up with anything that was actually sexual harassment. I had a very low tolerance for it. I don't put up with that stuff. Hagel didn't tolerate it, I didn't tolerate it."

Linehan described the incident as a dispute between a newly promoted senior staffer and one of his subordinates, centered around his handling of his new supervisory powers. Both staffers continued to work for Hagel for more than a year after the incident, Linehan said, which she cited as evidence that the two staffers had resolved the issue among themselves.

"It evidently smoothed out. Nobody came back to me later," she said. Linehan said that nobody from the committee had contacted her as of Monday afternoon. Former Obama campaign spokeswoman Marie Harf, who has been working with Hagel on the confirmation process, declined to comment on the allegations.

Sessions told The Cable that he had been briefed on the allegation, but said that he wanted to know the facts before making any judgment. "It should be analyzed and we should find out what happened," Sessions said. "I know the staff is looking at it. Pretty soon we'll get a final report on what the facts are."

For Sessions, the issue is whether Hagel was aware of the woman's complaint at the time. "I think Hagel is entitled to fair treatment. If he had been warned or there were indications [of the alleged incident], all of us have certain responsibilities. So let the facts speak out," he said.

According to the three senior GOP aides, the accuser did not feel that the matter was properly addressed at the time, which is why she insisted on talking to the committee staff now. There's no evidence the staffer filed a formal ethics complaint at the time of the alleged incident.

"She's raising it again now because she wasn't satisfied that it was handled the right way," one of the aides said. "There will be members who want to know what the results of the investigation are before they vote on the nomination."

Other Republican senators are focusing on Hagel's financial disclosures. Armed Services Committee member Roger Wicker sent Hagel a Jan. 29 letter signed by six senators asking for the text of all of Hagel's speeches, information on who paid for them, and whether foreign entities had given any money to organizations Hagel has worked with in a leadership capacity.

An official working on the Hagel confirmation told The Cable that a response to Wicker's letter was being sent to senators Tuesday but declined to characterize the response in any way.

Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable Tuesday that he does not think a committee vote on Hagel's nomination should proceed until the nominee provides more information about his past speeches.

"Chuck has said some things that are out of the mainstream and I don't think it's unfair to say, ‘Tell us who you spoke to, particularly when you got paid,'" Graham said. "He's said he's given hundreds of speeches; we've only gotten [information about] four. We know he's received money from different groups, but we don't know who they are, who backs him, who funds him."

"I don't think you can make an informed decision [until that information is received]," Graham said.

Graham also said he has not yet decided on whether he would support a filibuster.

"A filibuster of a cabinet position is something we would have to take very seriously and I promise you I would," he said. "I would ask the administration to reconsider the nomination."

A spokesman for Levin told The Cable that the committee has yet to schedule the vote on Hagel's nomination.

"Senator Levin had said the vote could happen ‘as early as Thursday,' and that is still the case," Levin spokesperson Tara Andringa said.

UPDATE: Hagel declined to provide most of the records requested by the GOP sentors in a letter sent late Tuesday. Wednesday afternoon, Levin announced that the committee would not be voting on the nomination this week. 

"I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete. I intend to schedule a vote on the nomination as soon as possible," Levin said in a statement.

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The Cable

U.N. committee tells Obama to stop waiving sanctions on countries that use child soldiers

The Obama administration has waived sanctions on countries that use child soldiers for three years in a row, and today a United Nations committee urged the U.S. president to take a tougher stance.

Last October, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum waiving penalties under the Child Soldiers Protection Act of 2008 (CSPA) for Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen, along with a partial waiver for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Those penalties were put in place by Congress to prevent U.S. arms sales to countries determined by the State Department to be the worst abusers of child soldiers in their militaries, but the Obama administration has waived almost all of them each year, arguing that continued arms sales to abuser countries are needed either to bolster those countries' fragile security or to support cooperation with the U.S. military in areas such as counterterrorism.

The president's move to waive the sanctions came just one week after he issued a new executive order to fight human trafficking, touting his administration's handling of the issue.

"When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed -- that's slavery," Obama said in a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. "It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world. Now, as a nation, we've long rejected such cruelty."

On Tuesday, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report containing recommendations on how countries can address the issue of child soldiers -- along with some criticism of Obama.

"The Committee urges the [United States] to enact and apply a full prohibition of arms exports, including small arms and light weapons as well as any kind of military assistance to countries where children are known to be, or may potentially be, recruited or used in armed conflict and/or hostilities. To this end, the [United States] is encouraged to review and amend the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act with the view to withdrawing the possibility to allow for presidential waivers to these countries," the report stated.

Human rights groups pointed to the U.N. report as supportive of their longstanding calls for the Obama administration to stop issuing the waivers.

"While the administration has stepped up its attention to child soldiers, it continues to squander the leverage it has through the Child Soldiers Prevention Act," Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told The Cable. "By giving waivers to nearly all of the countries that have been affected by the law, the president is telling military allies that ending the use of child soldiers is not that important."

The U.N. committee also reported that it was "alarmed at reports of the death of hundreds of children as a result of attacks and air strikes by the US military forces in Afghanistan," expressed "deep concern" about the arrest and detention of children by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and criticized U.S. laws that prevent former child soldiers from being granted asylum in the United States.

President George W. Bush signed the child-soldiers law in 2008. It prohibits U.S. military education and training, foreign military financing, and other defense-related assistance to countries that actively recruit troops under the age of 18. Countries are designated as violators if the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report identifies them as recruiting child soldiers. The original bill was sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Obama first waived the sanctions in 2010, the first year they were to go into effect. At that time, the White House failed to inform Congress or the NGO community of its decision in advance, setting off a fierce backlash. A justification memo obtained by The Cable at the time made several security-related arguments for the waivers. Sudan was going through a fragile transition, for example. Yemen was crucial to counterterrorism cooperation, the administration argued.

But NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power told NGO leaders at the time that the waivers would not become a recurring event.

"Our judgment was: Brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," Power said, saying the administration wanted to give the violator countries one more year to show progress. "Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."

The waivers continued for the next two years. As The Cable reported Monday, Power will leave the administration, at least temporarily, at the end of this month.