Opinion

Time to confirm Hagel and move on

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) deserves thanks. He managed to go so far over the top in showing poor taste in his shameful questioning of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) during this week’s Armed Services Committee hearing on Hagel’s nomination as Defense secretary that he managed to assure that Hagel will be confirmed, as he should be.

Cruz challenged Hagel’s loyalty and even patriotism — not directly of course, but by innuendo — in demanding that Hagel disclose whether any foreign government directly or indirectly paid him to make a speech. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposes Hagel’s confirmation on intellectually honest grounds based on serious differences of opinions on Iraq and the troop surge, was offended by Cruz’s demagoguery, and came to Hagel’s defense. McCain reminded the Texas freshman that Hagel served in battle in Vietnam and won medals for heroism.

In this space weeks ago, I expressed concerns about Hagel’s use of the phrase “Jewish lobby” as insensitive to American Jews, in that this expression evokes the canard of dual loyalty that Jews have for centuries suffered as a basis for hateful anti-Semitism. I also added I did not in any way feel that Hagel was prejudiced — only that he was uninformed or insensitive. He has since apologized for the phrase. That is good enough for me.

Yes, I and many other Americans disagree with some of Hagel’s other votes and positions as senator. But so what? He was entitled to his opinions as a lawmaker; but as Defense secretary, he is not — he may only support the policies set by the man he works for, the president.

So it’s time for an up-or-down vote on Hagel.

This appears to be the first time in U.S. history that a Defense secretary nominee has been “filibustered,” but so be it. (Good reporters in D.C. should “out” the senator or senators responsible for the “hold” on the Hagel vote.)

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has already filed a cloture petition, meaning a cloture vote is likely as early as Friday. I predict at least 60-65 senators (meaning including 5-10 Republicans) will vote for cloture to allow a vote, and I also predict at least that many will vote to confirm Hagel.

Hagel is a great patriot, a good man, a man committed to public service, a sincere man of integrity. He understands the military by definition — if for no other reason than that he served and put his life on the line bravely facing Vietnamese bullets. He has the confidence of the president of the United States. ’Nuff said.

While I respect McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who, among others, appear likely to vote against confirmation, I strongly support Hagel’s nomination and trust he will be confirmed in time to represent the United States at important NATO defense meetings next week in Europe.

UPDATE: Shortly after this column was posted, Democratic Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (Nev.) announced there were still only 59 votes to invoke cloture — i.e., one vote shy. I still predict the 60th vote will be found somewhere in the Republican caucus. Even opponents of Senator Hagel on policy issues should not adhere to blocking an up-or-down vote for a Secretary of Defense for the first time in U.S. history. On the other hand, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina makes a valid point; the White House should be fully responsive and transparent to get all questions answered about Senator Hagel’s background, speeches, and anything else senators are asking about, including issues relating to Benghazi. Expecting transparency is not unreasonable in this situation.

Stay tuned.

Lanny Davis, a Washington attorney and principal in the firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, specializing in legal crisis management and dispute resolution, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07. He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is the author of the forthcoming book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life, to be published by Simon & Schuster in March.