Obama Taps Brennan for CIA, Hagel for Defense

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 7 2013 2:00 PM

Obama Taps John Brennan To Lead CIA, Former Sen. Chuck Hagel To Head Up Defense

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President Obama announces his nomination of Chuck Hagel (left) to head the Defense Department and John Brennan (right) to head the CIA on Monday

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

UPDATE: And it happened. As expected, President Obama announced the nominations of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to be his next defense secretary and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head up the CIA. Obama praised Hagel, by far the most controversial of the two choices, calling him "the leader that our troops deserve" and noting he'd be the first Vietnam War veteran to lead the Defense Department. "Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction," Obama said, according to the Washington Post

The president called Brennan "one of our most skilled and respected professionals" and joked that "I'm not sure he's slept in four years."

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Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that Hagel would get a fair confirmation hearing, Politico points out that some Republicans are already saying they won't vote for him.

Monday, Jan. 7 at 9:20 a.m.: It’s official: Monday is nomination day at the White House. President Obama won’t just announce that he wants former Sen. Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary. He'll also announce that he wants his chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan worked at the CIA for 25 years and was deputy executive director of the spy agency during President George W. Bush’s first term.

Obama first considered him to lead the CIA after he was elected president, but the move was immediately criticized by liberals who saw Brennan as tied with Bush’s harsh interrogation techniques. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration amid the controversy even as he wrote a letter to Obama at the time saying he was "a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding,” recalls the Associated Press.

When Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, Obama appointed him the White House counterterrorism director—officially deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism—a position that didn’t require confirmation. Although many wondered what his job would be at the time, “to a young administration new to the secret details of national security threats and responsibilities, Brennan was a godsend,” writes the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson. The CIA is currently being led by Acting Director Mike Morell after David Petraeus resigned from the post when he admitted to an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Buzzfeed publishes the talking points that the White House sent to reporters early Monday morning to support Brenan’s nomination:

• John Brennan’s career of service and extraordinary record has prepared him to be an outstanding director of the CIA. Brennan served for decades at the Agency. Since 9/11, he has been on the front lines in the fight against al Qaeda. Over the past four years, he has been involved in virtually all major national security issues and will be able to hit the ground running at CIA
• POTUS: Brennan has the full trust and confidence of the President. For four years, he has seen the President every day, and been by his side for some of his toughest decisions – including the decision to launch the bin Laden raid. Brennan is as close to President Obama as any member of his national security team.
• Record: Brennan has excelled as the President’s top advisor on counter-terrorism. During his four years on the job, al Qaeda’s leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden has been taken out. He has also led the effort to take the fight to al Qaeda’s affiliates in places like Somalia. He’s helped navigate the challenges of this Arab Spring, including the transition in Yemen. And he’s bolstered our homeland security, improving aviation screening and terrorist watch-lists, and helping to guide our response to countless challenges, from tornadoes to cyber threats to Hurricane Sandy.

Read the full White House case for Brennan here.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.