WASHINGTON-- Opponents of former Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary have zeroed in on a 2008 speech he gave to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as evidence that he's too cozy with organizations sympathetic to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
The speech was finally released on Thursday and it was something of a yawn. It showed Hagel as having delivered a largely un-noteworthy, if not boring, address on the need to use diplomatic means to solve complex international problems, including those with Iran.
Quieting skeptics a bit further were the other people who have given speeches to the ADC. While Hagel's association with the group has been held up as a potential problem for his confirmation, few, if any objections, were offered when other Republicans appeared before the ADC.
A Huffington Post review of guests shows Colin Powell, the former secretary of state; Bob Dole, former Senate majority leader; Spencer Abraham, former secretary of energy; and Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman from Arkansas now the point man for the NRA's effort to put armed guards in schools, have all spoken to the group. John Sununu, former President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff and the ubiquitous surrogate for Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, read a "congratulatory letter" from Bush at the group's 2005 gala. His son, John E. Sununu, the New Hampshire senator, also gave a speech, though in an interview with the Huffington Post he could recall the topic-- the Patriot Act and civil liberties -- but not the date.
Asked whether he viewed the organization as controversial, Sununu replied: "No."
"I don't think so. And look, any organization, especially one that tries to build a pretty broad base, can't be accountable for everything said by every one of its members over the course of its history," he said. "If someone wanted to make that or any activist organization look bad, I'm sure they can find a way. The history of the organization is one of coalition building and activism primarily on issues affecting Arab Americans."
An ADC spokesman, Raed Jarrar, said he could not recall an uproar when those people appeared before the group.
"The people behind this [Hagel] smear campaign are the same people who have been attacking ADC for decades," said Jarrar. He confirmed that Powell spoke to the group while serving as Bush's secretary of state. "We are actually disappointed that these figures, who have lost their credibility a long time ago, are still quoted by news organizations."
The list of speakers, in addition to the content of the speech, should put an end to this particular episode of controversy surrounding Hagel. The Nebraska Republican must wait at least ten more days now for confirmation after Senate Republicans sustained a filibuster -- unprecedented for a cabinet nominee -- during a preliminary vote on his nomination late Thursday.
Among questions that Republicans say are holding up the nomination are Hagel's comments about the influence of the Israeli lobby in Washington. Conservative news organizations had tried to get the ADC to release a tape of the speech Hagel gave to the group in 2008, to see whether Hagel elaborates on U.S.-Israel relations.
Pro-Israel advocates have accused the ADC of being too sympathetic toward Hamas and too critical of Israel. ADC has insisted it advocates a more open and even dialogue and has criticized violence by both sides. The Washington Free Beacon showed up at the ADC's office asking for footage from the 2008 speech, according to Politico.
Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Bill Kristol, Hagel's most prominent critic in the media, called on the ADC to release the tape.
"So we now know a video of Hagel’s remarks to the ADC exists. Recall that these were remarks that Hagel didn't disclose to the Senate, as he should have, in the first place," Kristol wrote on Feb. 12. "Wouldn't it make sense for the committee, and the Senate, to find out what Hagel said to this controversial group before rushing to confirm him?"
This line of attack made it into the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Hagel, with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) mentioning the "undisclosed" speeches.
On Thursday, the Washington Post conservative blogger Jen Rubin went so far as to suggest that merely appearing before the ADC was problematic for Hagel's nomination.
"Consider whom he is talking to, "a group that defended Hamas and Hezbollah," Rubin wrote.