His nomination hearing didn't go well, so former Sen. Chuck Hagel is on Capitol Hill this week wooing senators to back his bid to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
An administration official working with Hagel told Secrets that the former Nebraska senator has about 20 individual meetings with senators planned and that the initial ones are going well. He has received public endorsements from several Democrats as well as two Republicans, likely assuring his confirmation.
The official said that the administration is confident Hagel will be confirmed. The Senate Armed Services Committee votes Thursday on his nomination. "We feel like the momentum is headed in the right direction, and we're confident he's going to get confirmed," said the official.
After spending $51 billion, U.S. can't verify size of Afghan security force
The United States has spent more than $51 billion to help Afghanistan field, clothe, arm and house a national security force, but the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction said Monday that Washington doesn't even know the size of the Afghan force it's paying for.
And in a shocking statement, the IG, John Sopko, said that the numbers the U.S. is relying on from Afghan officials could be a sham, resulting in billions of dollars in waste.
Sopko, whose office is in charge of auditing the nearly $100 billion taxpayers are funneling to rebuild Afghanistan, said, "It looks like our data on the forces, the Afghan National Security Forces, that we are going to be relying on, may be bogus. We don't know what supports it."
His comments at a seminar hosted Monday by Center for Strategic and International Studies heightened concerns in his latest quarterly report on U.S. spending that taxpayers might be getting ripped off.
The report said that the Afghan security force totals 331,592, about 50,000 short of the goal of the combined army and police force. But then it warned that there is "no viable method of validating ... personnel numbers."
What's more, Sopko said that many agencies and foreign donor nations use different numbers, making it more difficult to determine the sources of the information.
It's a troubling issue because half of what the United States is paying to help rebuild Afghanistan goes to the army and police because Washington is relying on those forces to take over for Americans leaving the country by the end of next year. For comparison, the $51 billion spent on Afghan forces equals the amount Congress just appropriated for the Hurricane Sandy cleanup in the Northeast.
Sopko raised the problem with trying to confirm Afghan army and police personnel levels because they are deep in his quarterly report issued last week and overshadowed by even worse examples of taxpayer fraud and waste.
Mainstream scream: Chris Matthews hits McCain's Vietnam 'flashbacks'
Our weekly look at the loudest screech from the mainstream media features MSNBC's Hardball host Chris Matthews slamming Sen. John McCain, a former Vietnam War POW, for criticizing Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel.
"Forty years after the Vietnam POWs came home, the most famous of them is angrier than ever. Why is America, why are we fighting the Vietnam War all over again in the United States Senate?" asked Matthews. "Tonight, we dig into the deep well of resentment burning in John McCain's patriotic heart," said Matthews, adding, "A nightmare, by the way, whose flashbacks must haunt still the mind and heart of John Sidney McCain."
Media Research Center Vice President of Research Brent Baker explains our pick: "Instead of addressing Hagel's hearing performance that many saw as possibly the worst ever by a nominee for a major Cabinet post, Matthews put Obama's interests first by impugning McCain when all McCain did was the basic journalism Matthews failed to do: document Hagel's contradictions and misstatements."
Rating: Three out of five screams.
Paul Bedard, The Examiner's Washington Secrets columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears each weekday in the Politics section and on washingtonexaminer.com.