Panetta Defends Hagel, Criticizes GOP Questioning; Wanted Hearing to Focus on Present
Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
It wasn't that Chuck Hagel was unprepared for his Senate confirmation hearing; it's that Republican senators didn't ask the right questions, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Sunday.
Mr. Panetta defended the former senator's stumbling performance last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying he was absolutely confident of Mr. Hagel's ability to replace him as head of the Defense Department.
It's pretty obvious that the political knives were out for Chuck Hagel "said Mr. Panetta on NBC's"Meet the Press " What disappointed me is that they talked a lot about past quotes, but what about what a secretary of defense is confronting today?"
He said Republican senators should have spent more time quizzing Mr. Hagel about issues such as the war in Afghanistan, the budget sequestration, cyberspace attacks and the war on terrorism.
These hearings are tough, especially when everybody's targeting you, said Mr. Panetta on CNN's State of the Union. "I guess I was really disappointed that a lot of that hearing focused on the past, as opposed to the challenges that a secretary of defense has to face. ... There were a number of areas that simply were not that well covered that deal with what a secretary of defense has to do, and that concerned me."
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed those comments, adding that he thought Mr. Hagel would be a great secretary of defense.
In my contacts with Sen. Hagel and his preparations, I found him to be very thoughtful and very well-prepared and very interested, and so if he's confirmed, I'm sure we'll establish a very close working relationship, said the general on State of the Union.
Mr. Panetta said the criticism of Mr. Hagel has come from the Republican side, although that wasn't always the case Sunday. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary under President Obama, criticized the nominee's showing on Meet the Press. …