Hagel apologizes for calling diplomatic nominee 'aggressively gay' in 1998

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who is on the short list to be the next Defense secretary, apologized Friday for comments he made 14 years ago about a gay ambassadorial nominee after coming under fire for the comments from gay rights groups.

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Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin slammed Hagel on Thursday and called on him to repudiate remarks that U.S. Ambassador James Hormel was “openly aggressively gay.”

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel said in a statement Friday. “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. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Hagel’s apology comes as he has been under fire from some pro-Israel groups and Republicans for past comments about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating people in Washington, and for supporting U.S. engagement with Hamas and Iran.

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The criticism this week from the Human Rights Campaign was a new attack on Hagel’s record from liberals, adding another potential obstacle to his confirmation if he is nominated by President Obama.

Hagel was quoted in 1998 in the Omaha World-Herald explaining his opposition to Hormel's confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. Republicans blocked a vote on Hormel but President Clinton made him a recess appointment.

"They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job," Hagel said.

In addition to Hagel, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy are considered on the short list to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.