OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Congress jumps into Benghazi, Lackland

Clinton was scheduled to testify before the committees in December, but had to delay it after suffering a concussion.

Both of the hearings will feature new chairmen presiding: Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has taken over at House Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCongress must provide flexible funding for owners of repeatedly flooded properties Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case MORE (D-N.J.) will be presiding at the Senate hearing.

Menendez is all but assured to take over for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the Senate confirms Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFeehery: Oprah Dem presidential bid unlikely Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa Change in Iran will only come from its people — not the United States MORE (D-Mass.) to be secretary of State. Kerry’s confirmation hearing before the committee he currently chairs will take place Thursday.

Also on Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on the sex scandal at Lackland Air Base, where more than 30 basic training instructors have been investigated and six have been convicted of misconduct.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command, will be testifying in the first panel, and a forensic consultant and members of victims’ advocacy groups will testify on the second panel.

Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group that will be represented Wednesday, has alleged that the Armed Services panel has not done enough to tackle sexual assault and the military. The group is holding its own press briefing an hour before the hearing on Wednesday.

The committee argues that it has worked to address sexual assault for years, and panel aides and several lawmakers warned the group’s aggressive tactics have been frustrating and counterproductive.

Gen. Allen cleared of wrongdoing: Gen. John Allen, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Pentagon Inspector General.

A Pentagon official confirmed to The Hill that Allen had been cleared over his emails to Jill Kelley, and the Pentagon issued a statement soon after saying that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was “pleased to learn” the charges against Allen were unsubstantiated.

“The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan,” DOD press secretary George Little said in a statement.

The end of the investigation into Allen still does not clear up the issue whether he will be re-nominated as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe or as head of U.S. European Command.

McCain meets with Hagel ... : Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) characterized his meeting with White House nominee and former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelHagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase Pentagon documents hundreds of serious misconduct cases against top brass MORE on Tuesday as less of a vetting and more akin to a conversation between "old friends."

But that was about all the Arizona Republican was willing to publicly divulge about their conversation.

"We had a very frank and candid conversation. And I'll be looking forward to the hearing and asking questions," McCain said. During their talk, the two former colleagues and Vietnam veterans discussed "my concerns" over Hagel's prior comments on the Iraq war and Israel, McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill.

"We discussed my concerns [and] we'll be talking more about them in the hearing," he added.

Hagel has come under fire from Republicans for his vocal opposition to the George W. Bush administration and its Iraq war strategy. He has also been criticized for his comments on the influence of the Israel lobby on U.S. national security and foreign policy.

While McCain remained mum on the details of his meeting with Hagel, he did make clear that Hagel deserved a chance to fire back at GOP critics during his upcoming Senate confirmation hearing, scheduled for later this month.

"I think that he should be given the opportunity of a hearing before any of us make a judgment," McCain said.

... and with Kerry: Hagel was not the only nominee to meet with McCain on Tuesday. McCain, the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sat down with his current Senate colleague, Secretary of State nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

While McCain was just as tight-lipped about his meeting with Kerry as he was with Hagel, the Arizona Republican toyed with reporters who pressed the lawmaker for details on the meeting.

When asked what Kerry's stance was on key issues such as the civil war in Syria and Iran's nuclear enrichment program, McCain answered dryly: "He agrees with us completely," drawing chuckles from the reporters gathered at the press briefing.

But McCain being McCain, he could not help but take a parting shot at his Senate colleague and his coming confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations panel.

"We will look forward to interrogating him at his hearing next week — mercilessly. We will bring back for the only time waterboarding to get the truth out of him," McCain joked to another round of laughter from the press corps.

On a serious note, McCain noted that Kerry, who is set to replace Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE, is "very concerned" about the growing unrest in Syria and Iranian growing influence in the increasingly volatile situation.

"I think he shares certainly the priorities that we are discussing," he added.

McCain and others have continued to push for direct U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Kerry, on the other hand, has toed the administration's line on the need for a political solution to the Syria problem.

Kerry was one of the leading voices in the Senate advocating for American military force to help rebels in Libya take out former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Levin ‘dreads’ impact of DOD budget delay: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies MORE (D-Mich.) hopes that the Pentagon’s budget delay is over soon.

The Pentagon has said its 2014 budget request has been delayed because of all the uncertainty surrounding sequestration and the 2013 continuing resolution.

The delay has implications for Levin’s committee because it will have a smaller window to complete the 2014 defense authorization bill as a result.

Levin didn’t want to think about how long would be too long to wait.

“I dread to think of how long we could wait,” Levin told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve been pushed to the limit pretty severely in the past. I don’t know what our limit is — I hope we don’t have to face it.”

Levin also said, however, that he didn’t see any movement toward bringing a budget to Congress until the CR and sequestration were resolved.


— Group wants more done on military sexual assault

— McCain: Syrian extremists gaining legitimacy

— Anti-Hagel ads target vulnerable Democrats

— Roby named head of Armed Services sub-panel

— Blair: Drone strikes should be military-only

— Hagel meets with Jewish leaders

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