The Cable

State Department Swears: We Did Not Kowtow to Ted Cruz

Two days after Senator Ted Cruz vowed to grind all nominations at the State Department to a halt unless it picked an Inspector General, Foggy Bottom did just that. But it's not letting the fiery Texan take credit for streamlining the appointment process. Sure, the IG's position had been empty for more than five years. But the announcement of a new IG candidate 48 hours after Cruz's threat was a total coincidence, a senior State Department official maintains.

"[It's] not fair to say at all that it was spurred by the Cruz threat," the official tells The Cable. "This was in the works going back quite some time -- back in April the Secretary said on the Hill we had a candidate. Of course the person had to go through standard vetting. The announcement was imminent."

At State, the Inspector General is tasked with preventing and exposing fraud, waste and abuse within the department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. On Thursday, President Obama appointed Steve Linick, the Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Without taking credit for spurring on the appointment, Cruz press secretary Catherine Frazier told The Cable "it is a fortuitous coincidence that after almost 2,000 days of having no oversight at the State Department, the President nominated an Inspector General" following Cruz's threat.

She added, "Regardless of what brought this about, the entire federal government and all who value proper oversight and accountability of our federal agencies should be encouraged by this concrete step in the right direction. The senator looks forward to discussing his concerns about the Department with Mr. Linick in the near future."

While the State Department insists paperwork and vetting attributed to some of the delay, Kerry and the White House had come under increasing pressure from Congress in recent days to hurry up and make the appointment. On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution urging the president to nominate an IG. "We've written to President Obama, we've written to Secretary Kerry; stressing the importance of appointing a permanent Inspector General," read a Thursday statement from Rep. Ed Royce, the committee chairman. "The resolution is non-partisan for the simple reason that the concept of a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed permanent IG is fundamental to the very notion of good government."

Cruz's intervention went beyond those of other lawmakers in his vow to take all other State Department nominations hostage in the process of getting an IG. That threatened to delay the potential confirmation of high profile candidates including Samantha Power, appointed to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Victoria Nuland, appointed as assistant secretary of state for Europe, and Danny Russel, appointed assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  "Until the President acts, I have notified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that I will place a hold on all State Department nominations," Cruz said Wednesday, a day after writing to the president.

Other Republicans offered somewhat backhanded compliments to the White House and State Department. "While this nomination is long overdue, I appreciate the president responding to the concerns that I've expressed to him and Secretary Kerry regarding this vacancy," Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "I look forward to getting to know the nominee as our committee considers his fitness for this important position."

Cruz and other Republicans have criticized the State Department for recent controversies including last year's attack on Benghazi and the alleged mismanagement of security contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Cruz, in particular, has been working with Aurelia Fedenisn, a self-proclaimed State Department whistleblower whose lawyers, like Cruz, hail from Texas.

The Cable

Biden Gathers Senators For Last-Minute Syria Briefing

On Capitol Hill Thursday, an intimate briefing between CIA Director John Brennan and the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee exploded into an impromptu and classified briefing on Syria with top leaders at the State Department, CIA, White House and Congress.

Originally billed as a briefing about a new CIA report defending enhanced interrogation practices, congressional aides said the focus of the briefing flipped unexpectedly to the war in Syria and was extended to the entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Attendees spotted by The Cable included Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Saxby Chambliss, Ron Wyden, Susan Collins, and others.

As they exited the briefing, attendees remained tight-lipped. "I have nothing to say," Feinstein said. When asked if the briefing involved the CIA's interrogation practices, she said "no." Congressional aides confirmed that the briefing focused on Syria, but could not elaborate. Update: There is some confusion over whether the CIA report was delivered in a meeting prior to the Syria meeting. One Senate aide said Brennan did discuss the CIA report with Feinstein and Chambliss privately, but there was "no report formally delivered" to them or the committee.  Another Senate aide said the report was delivered by Brennan. The CIA declined to comment.

The meeting occurred in the backdrop of a dispute last week between lawmakers and the White House over its proposal to provide arms to Syrian rebels. In the House Intelligence Committee, both Democrats and Republicans rejected the White House's initial proposal to arm Syrian rebels, saying it lacked specifics, including what to do if sending arms fails to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"We want to make sure that we know what the end game is and we want to make sure it's the right strategy," House Intel member Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) told the AP.

"We're supportive of the president's efforts to continue to put pressure on the Assad regime and to support the rebels, but we all continue to ask tough questions," Langevin added. "Do we know who these rebels are and in the long run, are we backing the right group, and are any action that we taking in total concert with the allies and surrounding nations in the region, so that this doesn't ever become a U.S.-only effort."

When asked if today's Senate Intelligence Committee was also about getting senators on board with funding arms to the rebels, a Senate aide told The Cable "yes."

At today's Senate briefing, Biden dashed out of the meeting before others in a sprint to the Senate Floor, where he presided over the passage of the immigration overhaul legislation, which passed by 68-32.

As The Cable jotted notes about the attendees present, staffers hovering near Burns nervously approached asking if your humble blogger had overheard their "private conversations" with the deputy secretary. The Cable had not-unfortunately.