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Has Kirk's Office Been Running a Secret Anti-Hagel Campaign?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
A top aide to Kirk, center, has been sending emails knocking Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel to a wide list of staffers and some reporters.

A top aide to Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., has been distributing anti-Chuck Hagel emails to a large, undisclosed listserv of staffers — including Democrats — beginning as early as Dec. 20, according to the more than a dozen emails obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Richard Goldberg, a deputy chief of staff in Kirk’s office who also focuses on foreign policy issues, has been sending as many as three emails a day to the list, which CQ Roll Call confirmed includes reporters, Republican policy staffers and some Democrats. The emails typically include links or text of articles that cast Hagel — a former Republican senator from Nebraska and President Barack Obama’s secretary of Defense nominee — in a negative light.

Many Republicans have expressed reservations about Hagel’s appointment, questioning the Vietnam War veteran’s positions on Israel and Iran sanctions, two issues upon which Kirk has concentrated throughout his congressional career. But Kirk himself has not publicly opposed Hagel’s nomination, especially not to the extent that the emails from his staffer collectively suggest.

“I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel’s record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran,” Kirk said in a Jan. 5 statement. “I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern.”

When asked about Goldberg’s emails, Kirk’s office reiterated the senator’s concerns, but did not address whether Goldberg was authorized or asked to mount the anti-Hagel campaign.

“The Senator has made it very clear that he has concerns about Senator Hagel’s past record and statements on a number of issues and will be asking serious questions as this process moves forward,” the statement provided to CQ Roll Call said.

The chatter within Republican circles, however, is that Kirk’s office has been taking a lead role in the campaign against Hagel’s confirmation. Two sources said they expect Kirk will be more vocal about his concerns in the coming days.

The Illinois Republican has long been an outspoken supporter of Israel and an ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC has remained relatively quite since Obama announced Hagel as his pick for the Pentagon’s top seat, but it remains unclear how the powerful lobby — at the center of one of Hagel’s most controversial remarks — will advise its friends in Congress.

Kirk also was one of the lead co-sponsors of an Iranian sanctions measure included in last month’s National Defense Authorization Act.

It’s notable that Goldberg’s first email was sent in December, weeks before Kirk, who missed nearly an entire year in Washington after suffering a stroke, returned to the Capitol and well before Hagel was officially tapped by Obama.

A selection of the subject lines include: “Breaking: Chuck Hagel Once Opposed Nominee Because He Was ‘Openly Aggressively Gay” (12/20/2012); “ICYMI: Chuck Hagel’s History of Homophobia” (01/01/2013); “Iran State TV Praises Obama’s ‘anti-Israel’ Hagel Selection” (01/06/2013); “Must Watch: Maddow Slams Hagel’s ‘Akin-esque’ Views on Rape, Abortion, LGBT in the Military” (01/08/2013); “ICYMI: Hagel’s group sees Iran as a future ally” (01/09/2013).

According to one source, at least four Democratic foreign policy staffers have been receiving the notes and multiple GOP sources confirmed that their foreign policy aides have been receiving them as well. Another source indicated that the anti-Hagel emails actually began earlier in the month, but those missives were not among those reviewed by CQ Roll Call.

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