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Group Formed to Aid Hagel Folds Group Formed to Aid Hagel Folds

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Group Formed to Aid Hagel Folds

A new political nonprofit that sprouted up to solicit cash to defend President Obama’s expected nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary is already folding up shop.

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Burt said he registered “Americans For Strategic Leadership” as a 501(c)4 nonprofit in order to defend Hagel’s reputation. Burt said he and other friends of Hagel watched as a torrent of criticism torpedoed the rumored nomination of Susan Rice for Secretary of State and they didn’t want Hagel to suffer the same fate.

“He was getting attacked,” Burt said.

Americans For Strategic Leadership, Burt wrote in an email solicitation last week sent to potential donors and obtained by National Journal, would act as a counterweight to those attacks. “We will be conducting a public advertising and advocacy campaign focused on those members of the U.S. Senate who will responsible for the confirmation of Chuck,” the solicitation said. Burt was identified as president of the group.

It would be “a very costly venture,” the pitch said, and Burt tried to entice donors by noting that as a 501(c)4, the group could raise money in unlimited sums and keep its contributors secret.

Hagel’s nomination, whispered about in Washington since December, has generated opposition from the right, the left (from gay-rights groups), and the pro-Israel lobby. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called it “an in your face nomination” Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

Opponents of Hagel have not been shy about mobilizing. Already on Monday, the Emergency Committee for Israel had launched a website calling him “not a responsible option. The site is located at chuckhagel.com.

But now that Obama is expected to formally nominate Hagel, Burt said his group was withdrawing from a role defending the Nebraska Republican. “Once he is the president’s nominee, it’s not our role to get him confirmed,” Burt said. “It’s up to the White House and the State Department to make a case.”

So what caused the about-face? Burt said he was not asked by the White House or Hagel to abandon his independent effort, but that events simply overtook the group. Burt, who returned from Europe over the weekend, said he didn’t know exactly how much money the group had raised but that “it’s going to all be returned” now.

Burt, the U.S. ambassador to Germany in the late 1980s, said he has known Hagel since then. He currently serves as an executive committee and board member of the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan group “devoted to promoting transatlantic cooperation and international security,” according to its website. Hagel is the chairman of the group.

“For now, we’re folding up shop,” Burt said, though he left the door open to revive the effort, if need be, adding he was not “ruling out something in the future.”

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