Two Views of Chuck Hagel

Is Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary an imperious boss and abuser of his staff? Or does he just run a tight ship?

Republican Sen. Bob Corker (TN) questions whether his former colleague Chuck Hagel has right stuff to run the Defense Department. Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Corker raised concerns about Hagel’s “overall temperament ” and asked whether “he is suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon.” Then Corker implied he wasn’t the only one with such concerns.

“I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just asking about the way he has dealt with them,” Corker said, without elaborating on who said staffers might be.
These complaints are nothing new.
Back in August 2003, when Hagel was eyeing a 2008 presidential run, The Washingtonian reported that the senator was “getting subordinates to address him as if he’s already the commander-in-chief.”
“Insiders say that the ambitious Nebraska Republican wants interns and staffers to stand when he enters the room. And when they engage him in conversation, they are to end sentences with ‘sir’ or ‘Senator’ just to make sure everyone knows who’s in charge.”

But one staffer refuted this assertion. “I was never told to ‘stand when he enters a room’ or ‘end sentences with “Sir”or “Senator”‘–which you claim are office policy,” Megan Blackburn wrote in a letter to the editor. At the time, Blackburn said, she’d been a personal assistant to Hagel for two years, after working as an intern in his office. “I was given instructions never to lie and always to remember that we work for the citizens and taxpayers of Nebraska,” she said.

But in 2008, another former Senate staffer wrote in to say we should have added Hagel to our “Best & Worst of Congress” poll under “meanest.”
“His staff lives in fear of him,” the staffer claimed. (Barbara Mikulski nabbed that ignominious distinction that year.)
Ok, maybe Hagel runs a formal office, insisting that staff not address him by his first name. But the reports of his imperiousness and staff abuse are “baloney,” says Steve Clemons of The Atlantic and the New America Foundation, who has been an outspoken supporter of Hagel. “I was in and out of his office for years. It ran, as many offices do, with a sense of formality,” Clemons tells me. “But I never heard of abuse or anything other than the fact that he demanded excellent performance because he viewed that office as consequential to the policy life of the country.”
These are some diametric views of the former senator. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No one’s ever accused Hagel of being the warm and fuzzy type. But until people come forward with more specific allegations than “he’s a meany sometimes,” or can point out how Hagel’s demeanor affected his decision-making, these broad complaints aren’t likely to impede Hagel’s confirmation.
Not that he doesn’t have other problems.