The Hagel Fishing Expedition

The smear campaign against defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has taken a bizarre turn.

Hagel Hearing

Earlier this morning, I posted the following at the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist blog under the title “The Atlantic Council, Foreign Funding, and Intellectual Independence.” While some of it’s esoteric, I think the matter will be of sufficient interest to OTB’s readership to repost in its entirety here. 

Opponents of Senator Chuck Hagel’s confirmation to be the next secretary of defense have waged a smear campaign accusing him of everything from anti-Semitism to anti-gay bigotry to poor treatment of staffers. They’re nonetheless short of not only a majority in the Senate but even the forty votes needed to sustain a filibuster. Their latest gambit is to delay a vote by engaging in a fishing expedition into the financing of the various organizations with whom Hagel is affiliated, including the Atlantic Council, where he serves as chairman of the board of directors.

Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, rightly notes that opponents are “insist[ing] upon financial disclosure requirements that far exceed the standard practices of the Armed Services Committee and go far beyond the financial disclosure required of previous Secretaries of Defense.” It’s perfectly reasonable to ask those seeking to serve in sensitive government posts to divulge who’s paid them. It’s bizarre, indeed, to ask that those entities in turn open their books.  And, as Levin notes, we haven’t done so: “Over the sixteen years that I have served as either Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of the committee, we have considered numerous nominations of individuals who were associated with similar think tanks, universities, and other non-profit entities. Even in the many cases where a nominee received compensation from such a non-profit entity, we did not require the nominee to disclose the sources of funding provided to the non-profit entity.”

Regardless, in the process of throwing out charges to see if anything sticks,opponents have made scurrilous suggestions about the Atlantic Council’s funding, practices, and motivations that must be addressed.

The notion that the Atlantic Council is some clandestine organization under nefarious foreign influence is laughable to those who know our long history. Our founders include Dean Acheson, secretary of state under Harry Truman, and Christian Herter, who held the same post under Dwight Eisenhower. And we’ve been led over the years by the likes of Andrew Goodpaster, Brent Scowcroft, and Jim Jones; in short, some of the finest Americans of the postwar era. But, while we’re well known and regarded in elite circles, we’re not a household name and these inflammatory charges may well be the first time some are hearing of us.

An unnamed “senior GOP aide” told Buzzfeed Wednesday that “Senators are not reacting well” to Hagel’s response that information about the finances of organizations with whom he’s affiliated “are not mine to disclose” and that he has “a fiduciary duty that includes the obligation to maintain the confidentiality of non-public corporate information.” The aide charged, “He is basically telling Senators they have no right to know if he has been unduly influenced by foreign governments or foreign agents over the last five years. What is he hiding?”

Friday afternoon, in attempt to set the record straight, Atlantic Council president and CEO Frederick Kempe released a seven-page letter to Hagel and various media outlets detailing the Council’s foreign funding sources and ethical policies relating to funders.

It’s worth noting at the outset that Hagel serves the Atlantic Council pro bono. He has put in countless hours over the past four years, including traveling all around the globe on Council business, without a single dime in compensation, from foreign sources or otherwise, aside from a $5000 honorarium for his contribution to our May 2012 publication “The Task Ahead: Memos for the Winner of the 2012 Presidential Election.” All contributors were offered the same amount and the compensation was “paid from general Council resources and not a foreign source.”

Breitbart’s Joel Pollack complains that “The list did not shed light on individuals such as Saad Hariri, whose family has given generously to the Atlantic Council and who has supported the Hamas terror organization publicly, as well as offering financial support to Syrian rebels.”

Like most 501(c)(3) organizations, the Council does not disclose individual donors. But the list wouldn’t have shed any light on Saad Hariri, in any case, given that he has no affiliation with the Council. (That said, conflating support for the political wing of Hamas, which like it or not constitutes the democratically elected government in Gaza, and support for terrorism is simplistic; even more so considering that Saad Hariri’s father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, was murdered by Hezbollah terrorists.) We have, however, received generous support from Bahaa Hariri, Rafik’s eldest son, who is a businessman and not a political figure. We’ve hardly hidden this fact. Bahaa Hariri sits on our board of directors and we’ve proudly named our Middle East Center after his father, a great force for peace in the region whose work was cut short by an assassin.

Like all organizations of its kind, the Atlantic Council has to fund its work by cultivating donors. As our focus has broadened from NATO to addressing global challenges by harnessing transatlantic cooperation and values, so has our circle of foreign funders. But we’ve always placed the integrity of our work above the preferences of our funders.

Indeed, under the leadership of Hagel and Kempe, we’ve recognized the potential for these relationships to confer an appearance of conflict and therefore outlined detailed policies for review of foreign government funding and intellectual independence. The full text of these policies is included in the aforementioned letter.

The short version is that all funding from foreign governments or state-controlled entities are formally reviewed by the Council’s executive leadership team and reviewed by the Nominating and Governance Committee of its board. Additionally, the Council’s policies for foreign entities include non-negotiable terms of full disclosure and intellectual ownership and the Council always seeks to diversify the funding  so that no project is dependent on a single funder.

Further, aside from our “common belief in the Council’s mission of renewing the Atlantic community for global challenges,” the “Council as an organization does not adopt or advocate positions on particular matters” while its individual board directors, executives, and staff are free to express their own views, so long as they make clear they speak for themselves, not the organization. While that policy has been formalized since Hagel came aboard, it’s been our operating principle for as long as I’ve been here. Indeed, the inaugural posting for this blog noted,

It should be emphasized from the outset that the views expressed here are strictly those of the signed author and do not necessarily reflect a consensus view of the Council, its Board, or its members.  This isn’t a generic disclaimer aimed at covering our backsides but rather a reflection of the fact that, while we share a vision that the West must work together to achieve our foreign policy aims, the Council is a diverse, non-partisan network of leaders and scholars with a wide range of views on what are complex and controversial issues.  These pieces don’t represent the Council’s view because, more often than not, the Council doesn’t have a view.  Or, perhaps I should say, we have many views.

Our board of directors  contains prominent members of both parties, including individuals who’ve passionately and publicly disagreed with one another on the great controversies of US foreign policy over the years. We’re an institution that awarded our highest honor to George H.W. Bush and to the man who defeated his bid for re-election, Bill Clinton, in successive years. For that matter, we’re in institution chaired by Chuck Hagel who gave a 2011 Freedom Award to John McCain, years after the two had a bitter falling out over the Iraq War. While these individuals disagree on many things, they’re united in their belief in the value of American leadership, cooperation with our European allies and partner, and in the core values of Western democracy.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Middle East, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JoshB says:

    Great post. This further underlines the point that the GOP does not have any real interest in governance, and will do what they can to gum up the works. They will sling mud at anyone and everyone if it helps them slow walk anything that Obama wants.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    This is payback for Hagel’s support of Obama in 2008.

    I’m sure they feel that they can do to Hagel what they did to Rice, and let Obama know that his nominees must be acceptable to the Republican Party. This is a testosterone test.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: Although, oddly, Hagel didn’t actually endorse Obama in either 2008 or 2012. He also declined to endorse the GOP nominees, though.

  4. stonetools says:

    I’m on to you, James.
    Obviously, the Atlantic Council is related to the Trilateral Commission, which, as you know, is dedicated to creating a world government, ruled by the UN, in preparation for the coming of the Antichrist. So a vote for Hagel is really a vote for the Antichrist. QED.
    I received this revelation when I realized that James’ last name had six letters. Do you know which world leader also had six letters in his last name?
    Also too, 666 is the number of the Beast.
    Simple, once you think about it.

  5. de stijl says:

    James Joyner,

    At what point do you abandon the Republican party? Neo-McCarthyism is not an attractive trait in a political party.

  6. SoWhat says:

    I think you’re wrong James. I agree with (then) Senator Joe Biden and Chris Dodd who in 2005 said there would be no confirmation of John Bolton without information.

    Why can’t the Dems live up to their own standards?

    Too difficult? lol

  7. anjin-san says:

    I am not sure how this rates as “bizarre” – this sort of thing is SOP for todays conservatives. Bizzarre would be them showing an interest in responsible governance.

  8. CB says:


    They had very specific requests of Bolton, pertaining to his misleading of senate committees. This is a fishing expedition. That bill Kristol would think they are the same is, well, fitting.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    The neoconservatives are losing their grasp on power and are fighting back. Even Cheney is getting involved.
    Cheney blasts “second-rate” Obama nominees

  10. rudderpedals says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Cheney blasts “second-rate” Obama nominees

    That’s pretty rich coming from the guy who practically invented outsourcing non-political civil service hiring to batsh*t crazies from agenda shops like Liberty U.

  11. SoWhat says:

    I didn’t know until today that the Atlantic Council was one of the “dark money” organizations that Obama, Democrats and their allies in the press routinely decry as destroying democracy.

    Who knew James was working for The Dark Side? lol

    CB sez: Shoot The Messenger!!!11!!!! If it ain’t in Mother Jones it ain’t real! lol

  12. Surreal American says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    By all means, the political astuteness of Dick Cheney must be given its due deference:

  13. Septimius says:

    The word is out that Chuck Hagel hasn’t paid any taxes in 10 years received money from unsavory groups like “Friends of Hamas.” Let him prove that he didn’t receive any money from pro-terrorist groups by releasing his tax returns financial information.

  14. al-Ameda says:


    The word is out that Chuck Hagel hasn’t paid any taxes in 10 years received money from unsavory groups like “Friends of Hamas.” Let him prove that he didn’t receive any money from pro-terrorist groups by releasing his tax returns financial information.

    Yes, let Chuck prove that he did not beat his wife, and run a Black Helicopter operation from the roof of the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    How many times can we all be shocked, shocked to discover that Republicans are nuts?

  16. Andre Kenji says:

    The word out there is that Chuck Hagel eats little chidren.

  17. stonetools says:

    To be honest, the Republicans’ shenanigans is of a piece with their witch hunt over Benghazi and indeed their other witch hunts dating back to their shameful behavior over Vince Foster. James is only excited about this since now it is his ox that’s being gored.

    James, welcome to life in the sights of the vast right wing conspiracy. Enjoy!

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Come to think of it, do we know where Joyner was when Vince Foster died? They were both in Washington, I believe. Coincidence?

  19. Argon says:

    Heh, Cheney again. Jason Linkins described him as ‘Former Vice President Strangelove’ in his Sunday Talking Heads column today at HuffPo.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @SoWhat: Jeebus…. There is a reason I did not comment on this, this morn…. Something along the lines of “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  21. bk says:


    Who knew James was working for The Dark Side? lol

    CB sez: Shoot The Messenger!!!11!!!! If it ain’t in Mother Jones it ain’t real! lol

    Nothing says that the writer is making some well-grounded points quite like multiple “lols”.

  22. markm says:

    Fishing expedition?.
    Any and all politics aside….I watched part of Hagel hearing. I also watched part of the Brennan’s hearing.To me, there appears to be a very large competence gap between the two. Hagel, to me, appeared to be more than unprepared.

    I don’t know if he is capable of performing the duties of SoD….he might be. But I have no reservations with Brennan being capable for head of the CIA.

    This reminds me of the Harriet Miers nomination.

  23. Drew says:

    Crazed, partisan, nutty Republicans……….

    It’s not that Democrats don’t have serious doubts about the former Republican Senator’s record and qualifications. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin started last month’s nomination hearing by enumerating them, from Mr. Hagel’s long-standing opposition to sanctions on Iran to his warnings about the influence of a “Jewish lobby.”

    The hearing itself was a debacle without recent precedent. Obama senior campaign aide Robert Gibbs called the nominee “unimpressive and unprepared.” Under the headline “Whose Terrible Idea Was It to Nominate Hagel, Anyway?”, a normally pliant Obama loyalist at New York magazine blamed this “fiasco” on a “small cadre of intellectuals eager to shift the foreign-policy debate in general, and the Democratic Party’s foreign-policy thinking in particular, to the left.”

    None of this seems to sway Senate Democrats. After the President nominated Mr. Hagel, Chuck Schumer—who calls himself the Senate’s “guardian of Israel”—raised what he called “genuine concerns.” Within days and before the hearing, Mr. Schumer emerged from a meeting with Mr. Hagel to declare himself unconcerned and a yes vote.

    After the hearing, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill offered this excuse: “Chuck Hagel is much more comfortable asking questions than answering them. That’s one bad habit you get into when you’ve been in the Senate—you can dish it out but sometimes it’s a little more difficult to take it.” Now, there’s an endorsement for someone taking a job to command generals.

    The last-ditch rationalization is that a President deserves the advisers he picks. “Well, this is President Obama’s choice,” said Maryland’s Ben Cardin. “It’s not who I would prefer to see as secretary of defense.” That isn’t what Senators Joe Biden or John Kerry said when they filibustered John Bolton’s nomination to be Ambassador to the U.N. in 2005.

    Republicans are so far signaling that they won’t filibuster Mr. Hagel, which speaks well of their confirmation consistency even with a Democrat in the White House. But Senators of either party still owe voters their independent judgment on an up or down vote. Advice and consent isn’t supposed to mean partisan deference to the White House, especially when a nominee looks as unprepared as Mr. Hagel does.

    It’s clear that Mr. Obama chose Mr. Hagel not because he wants a strong and knowledgeable adviser but because he wants a cipher who will take orders from the White House. Mr. Hagel all but admitted this at last month’s hearing when West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin noted that “you’re going to be basically following policy, not making policy.” Mr. Hagel replied, “I won’t be in a policy-making position.”

  24. Scott O says:

    If you’re going to do a cut and paste you should include your source.

  25. CB says:

    I bristle at the defenses of Bolton. He was an exceptionally poor nominee for that specific UN post for glaringly obvious reasons. Hagel has his baggage, but comparisons of this process to John flippin Bolton’s are preposterous.

  26. @michael reynolds: I’m fairly sure James was in A;abama or thereabouts during that time. Nice comment, though. 🙂

  27. anjin-san says:

    who will take orders from the White House

    Last time I checked, cabinet secretaries, who serve at the pleasure of the President, take orders from the White House. We don’t need any would be cowboys, we have enough problems since the GOP opted out of participating in the governing this country.