White House press secretary Jay Carney joked Thursday that any suggestion the White House was withdrawing support for Chuck Hagel's nomination to head the Pentagon was as credible as a discounted report tying the former Nebraska senator to the "Friends of Hamas."
Carney told reporters Hagel will "absolutely not" withdraw, despite a letter from 15 Republicans requesting Obama rescind his nomination.
"Any suggestion to the contrary might have been found in the minutes of the meetings of the Friends of Hamas," Carney said.
The "Friends of Hamas" reference was a swipe at a report from Breitbart.com that cited sources in the Senate expressing concern the former senator had received speaking fees from foreign interests, including one with ties to the Palestinian group. But Dan Friedman, a reporter for the New York Daily News, said in an op-ed published Wednesday that he had first floated the name — along with the “Junior League of Hezbollah” — to Republican sources as tongue-in-cheek suggestions of possible anti-American groups.
Friedman believes that the Senate staffer he spoke to passed his query sincerely around to colleagues, and it eventually made its way to the Breitbart reporter.
From there, the report bounced around the conservative blogosphere. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was asked about the report during an interview with the Hugh Hewitt radio program, and called the allegation "very troubling."
Ben Shapiro, who wrote the original story for Breitbart, has said his Senate source claims to have heard the allegation from three different sources — none of whom was Friedman. Nevertheless, it appears that the group does not exist.
Allies of Hagel have pointed to the incident as evidence that conservative detractors are grasping at straws as they attempt to block his nomination. The letter sent to the White House on Thursday was signed by many of the Republicans who have led the fight against Hagel's nomination, but did not include any new members who had previously signaled support for what is expected to be a successful vote on his confirmation.
On Thursday, Carney called the delay on a vote for Hagel's nomination a "waste of time" and said that an announcement Thursday that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) would support Hagel's nomination was further evidence that the vote should be allowed to proceed. Shelby is the third Republican to say he would support Hagel's nomination.
"This waste of time is not just meaningless political posturing. ... A clear majority of senators support Sen. Hagel's nomination. We need our new secretary of Defense on the job," Carney said.