All-Star Panel: How did confirmation hearing go for Hagel?

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 31, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CHARLES HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: In a dangerous world, nuclear arsenals and our containment policy, which I mentioned in my statement has been critically important.

By the way, I have been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment. If I said that, it meant to say that, obviously, his position on containment we don't have a position on containment. We do have a position on containment, which is we do not favor containment.


BAIER: It was a long day for Chuck Hagel, the president's pick to run the Pentagon. And senior administration officials are, in fact, acknowledging that.  They were telling Mike Emanuel in the past few minutes, quote, "It wasn't perfect.  It was a long day. Hagel made clear he supports the president's policies. He tried in good faith to address the senators' question about his past statements and votes." They found it shocking there were more questions about the war in Iraq than Afghanistan. But here is another instance where a Democratic senator tried to save Hagel from something he said about Iran.


HAGEL: We have never made any part of a legitimate independent government, designated them or made part, made them part of a terrorist organization.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D – N.Y.: I can understand if you meant it's a legal entity that has international relations and has diplomatic relations and is a member of the U.N. But I do not see Iran ir the Iranian government as a legitimate government and I would like your thoughts on that.

HAGEL: Thank you, senator. What I meant to say, should have said it's recognizable -- it's been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations.


BAIER: That gives you just a flavor of the hearing. It was a long hearing.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: This has to have been the worst performance by any Cabinet nominee in the past couple decades. What you showed I thought wasn't even the worst of it. I think the difficulty in analyzing and talking about what happened to today is actually choosing which things to focus on. There were literally 20 or 30 misstatements or times when he didn't know what he was talking about or where he stumbled. I picked up these four, which I thought were the important. One, he didn't seem to know that the sequester cuts actually come from the budget control act. He seemed to be shocked by this and talked about in a way that was very confusing.

The second was what you played where he suggested that the Iranian regime is a quote, "legitimate, elected government." Third, he wouldn't acknowledge in repeated questioning that the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps is a terrorist entity. This is not in dispute – this is not in dispute by anybody. You had senior officials going back years talking about their role in killing Americans, in exporting terrorism.

And fourth, he wouldn't acknowledge that the surge worked in Iraq despite repeated questioning from John McCain and others, something that is, I think,  obvious to basically everybody.

And the problem with this is not just that he stumbled or that he had a bad day. The problem with this is that we live in a dangerous world. Right now, this is a serious position. Just in the past 48 hours we've had reports about Iran restarting and speeding up its nuclear program. We've had reports about Al Qaeda reinvigorating its affiliates, and we had talk about North Korea and another test. You have can't have somebody serving in this position who is so unfamiliar with even the basics of all of these issues and all of the things he talked about.

And he ended up -- his testimony today by suggesting in what was really almost a sad move that he is not that going to be that powerful anyway. People shouldn't be the concerned because he's not going to be that powerful as defense secretary anyway. And he said, quote, "I won't be in a policymaking position."  That is extraordinary thing for somebody like Chuck Hagel to say.

BAIER: Alright, Chuck, let's just play the exchange with McCain on the Iraq surge that Steve referenced.


HAGEL: Well, I would defer to judgment of history to sort that out.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - AZ: I want to know if you are right or wrong. That is a direct question and I expect a direct answer.

HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. If we review the record --

MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?

HAGEL: My reference to the --


MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question.

HAGEL: Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things.

MCCAIN: Let the record show you refused to answer that question.


BAIER: The thing that's striking, among other things about that, Chuck, is that they were very good friends back in the day. But your thoughts on the hearing overall?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: I think that this is not the first time a nominee for high office has come to a Senate committee with a long paper trail that contains a lot of difficult in hindsight things to explain. But it may be the most in-artful attempt to defend such a paper trail.

You know, if I were somebody who shared the views that Chuck Hagel had articulated in the past, I would be very disappointed, because he sort of abandoned them desperately without even attempting to articulate his rationale for having said them in the first place.

His basic problem when you cut through all the other conversation is that he repeatedly in the past sounded very energetic in his criticism of Israel and very moderate and soft in his characterizations of Iran. That is a consistent pattern in his career. And he now is in the position of saying don't worry about all of that. I didn't really mean it. So the defense of Chuck Hagel after this hearing has to be something like Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, he is not a man of conviction.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: His problem isn't a paper trail. His problem is a demonstrated, incredibly remarkable lack of competence. Look, the two lines of attack on him up until today were one ideological, that the content of what he has been saying over the years is out of the mainstream, way out there, to the left of Obama, as McCain pointed out. He's a guy who got the surge completely wrong, and he himself called the Iraq war a disaster, and yet he voted to authorize the war. So the first line of attack was on the content. The second was how honest is he, because he's now, he's been denying essentially the essence of a dozen statement and ideas that he said in the past, and now he says all of a sudden, oh no, on Iran I changed my mind.

BAIER: From the left and the right, we should point out on the gay issue, on climate change, on other things --

KRAUTHAMMER: All of a sudden he has seen the light on dozen issues, overnight, as he is being challenged in Congress. But what happened today was shocking because it showed an astonishing lack of competence. He was wobbly, he was weak, bumbling.  As we saw in the first clip, he didn't -- when he said -- when he corrects himself on containment, and says you know well, I was wrong about supporting containment, our policy is that we don't have a policy on containment -- it showed he has no idea about the single most grave issue facing the United States, containment of Iran or not. And he was corrected by a Democrat.

And then on the Israel issue he was completely humiliated by Senator Graham, when he was asked you said the Jewish lobby – are we going to show that?

BAIER: Yes. But we were going to talk about the job council. The unemployment numbers are coming out tomorrow. We can talk about it tomorrow.  We have more to talk about about Hagel because there's more sound to play.  So we'll call an audible and do that on the other side of the break.

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