Hagel sharply criticizes Bush administration

Political maverick and possible presidential candidate Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) Sunday harshly criticized the Bush administration for its policy of “military escalation” in Iraq, its handling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and also lamented that the president is dismissive of Congress.

“I am opposed to the president’s current [Iraq] policy,” Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” The senator argued that there is no military solution in Iraq and that “we are undermining our interests in the Middle East, we are undermining our military, we’re undermining the confidence of people around the world in what we’re doing.”

The senator had especially strong words for Bush with regard on how the president dismissed a bill passed in the House Friday that would require most U.S. troops to leave by fall of next year.

Hagel said he interpreted Bush’s comments on the bill as “saying to the Congress, in effect, you don’t belong in this, I’m in charge of Iraq.” The senator stressed that he was “astounded” by the president’s rhetoric.

“No president can dictate to this country, nor should he,” the senator said. “This is a constitutional form of government. We have three equal branches of government. No president is bigger than the other two.”

Hagel also announced that he and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) would introduce legislation this week that would be “focused on deployment, redeployment, training, [and] equipment.” The senator hinted that he is considering attaching the language to the Iraq supplemental bill that the Senate is slated to work on this week.

Lastly, Hagel lent his voice to a growing chorus of Republicans who said it would be better if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would step down from his post over the controversy surrounding the firing of the U.S. attorneys. The senator said he does not believe that Gonzales can overcome his credibility problem and still serve effectively in his position.

Hagel dismissed the conditions the White House wants to place on the potential testimony of Bush adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and two aides.

“My goodness, isn’t the objective here is to get to the bottom of the issue,” Hagel said. “Isn’t the objective to find out the truth? Isn’t the objective to be transparent and let the American people know what happened, what went wrong?”