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Hagel apologizes for anti-gay comments amid defense secretary speculation

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel issued an apology Friday for comments he made in a 1998 interview that have drawn sharp criticism from a major gay-rights group and that could put his possible bid for defense secretary in jeopardy.

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel said in a statement. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.”

The newest Hagel controversy stems from comments he made during a debate over the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg. Hagel had said Hormel was “openly aggressively gay.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign called out the Nebraskan Republican for his comments and said his “consistent anti-LGBT record” in the Senate raised serious question about where he stands on the issues today.

“We are pleased that Senator Hagel recognized the importance of retracting his previous statement about Ambassador Hormel and affirming his commitment to 'don’t ask, don’t tell' repeal and LGBT military families,” OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said in a statement following Hagel’s apology. “We look forward to learning more about his commitment to full LGBT military equality as this nomination and confirmation process unfolds.”

The White House has had to come to Hagel’s defense twice in the past month. While he has yet to be formally nominated for a Cabinet position, many think he is on the administration’s short list to fill Leon Panetta’s seat as head of the Defense Department.

Earlier this week, critics took aim at his record on Israel, as well as remarks he made about pro-Israel groups and what he once referred to as the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.