On Thursday, the White House publicly defended the reputation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a top contender for defense secretary, even though he has yet to formally be nominated to the post.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr. Hagel, a Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama’s first bid for president, has been a “remarkable servant to this country.”
Although Mr. Carney said he did not have anything to say about the president’s personnel decisions, he went on to defend Mr. Hagel in general terms, but did not specifically address the charges of anti-Israel sentiment.
“What I can tell you is that Sen. Hagel fought and bled for his country. He served his country well. He was an excellent senator,” he said.
Early in his career Mr. Hagel served as an enlisted infantryman in the Vietnam War and was awarded two Purple Hearts.
After leaving the Senate, he joined the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which gives presidents advice on the quality and adequacy of the government’s intelligence collection, in fall 2009. He also serves as the chairman of the Atlantic Council, a think tank focused on U.S. leadership in international affairs.
Mr. Hagel’s potential nomination has come under fire this week with critics casting him as anti-Israel, citing remarks he made as a senator when referring to the power of “the Jewish lobby.”
The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel also said it would run ads slamming Mr. Hagel’s statements about Iran.
Mr. Carney refused to comment on Mr. Hagel’s statements, deeming the attacks as part of a similar strategy that sunk the potential nomination of United Nations envoy Susan Rice to be secretary of state. Mrs. Rice took her name out of the running last week after a barrage of criticism about her statements about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
At first, President Obama came to his longtime foreign policy advisor’s defense, but last week when the continued drumbeat against her failed to dissipate, Mrs. Rice announced she would not longer seek the post.
“We’ve been through this before with Ambassador Rice, where there’s an effort to go after somebody,” Mr. Carney said. “We have made no personnel announcements, and I’m not going to engage in that.”