Panetta: Attacks on Chuck Hagel ‘unfair’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the attacks on former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) have been unfair, and that he believes the Senate would confirm President Obama's new Pentagon nominee. 

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“In these confirmation battles, there are a lot of charges that’ll be out there. There will be lot of criticisms that will be out there, but ultimately the truth prevails,” Panetta said at a Pentagon press conference. “And I think the truth in this case will mean that he will be confirmed.”

Hagel, who was nominated as Panetta’s successor on Monday, has come under fire for his statements and positions on a number of issues, including charges that he’s anti-Israel, soft on Iran and does not support gay rights.

Five Republican senators have said they will oppose Hagel’s confirmation, while a number of other GOP lawmakers have said they have serious problems with his record. Some Democratic senators have also said they are concerned about Hagel.

Several pro-Israel groups — as well as the Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP group that represents gay and lesbians  — are vowing to continue their campaigns against Hagel in the coming weeks. Former presidential candidate and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.) fundraising organization Patriot Voices is planning to oppose Hagel with a series of online and radio ads, the group said Wednesday. 

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Panetta dismissed much of the negative attention surrounding Hagel.

“I think a lot of criticisms being made right now are being unfair, but he’ll have the opportunity to speak to those when he goes into his confirmation hearing,” Panetta said.

The outgoing Defense secretary declined to get into specifics about Hagel’s record, saying that he would let Hagel do that himself at his confirmation hearing. Hagel told a Nebraska newspaper this week that his record had been “completely distorted.”

Hagel and Panetta have met over dinner and lunch, Panetta said. The two had dinner after Hagel was nominated. Panetta said they had also had a lunch to discuss the budget issues the Pentagon is facing amid the threat of sequestration and the continuing resolution expiring in March.

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