Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) demanded details last Thursday from Brian McKeon -- President Obama's pick to take over as principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy -- to help determine whether the Obama administration delayed notification to Congress that Russia might have violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The lawmakers suspect Obama officials of having dragged their heels on transparency about Russian compliance as senators considered in 2010 whether to ratify the New START nuclear-arms reduction pact with Moscow.
However, McKeon said indications of the possible Russian intermediate-range arms-control violation began surfacing just as Congress was considering approving the separate strategic-reductions pact three years ago.
New START went on to be ratified in both nations and will take Washington and Moscow down to 1,750 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 fielded delivery systems apiece.
Speaking at his Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Tuesday, McKeon said U.S. intelligence agencies might have "flagged" the possible violation "literally the day before" the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on ratifying New START in late 2010.
"I believe ... that the [intelligence community] and the executive branch were committed to providing timely information about potential concerns," McKeon said.
Wicker suggested, though, that this week once again McKeon is providing pivotal information too late for senators and their staffs to handle.
The GOP lawmaker said he and Ayotte had received McKeon's reply to their questions at 8 p.m. on Monday of this week, "after most staff had left and after the Senate had finished voting and people were on their way home."
He said congressional aides would have needed extra time to determine how the lawmakers could follow up on the classified answers during McKeon's public nomination hearing on Tuesday.
"If I were cynical ... I would question the fact that the response was delivered so late and ... in such a way that we're really not able to get into the answers to our questions in this hearing," Wicker groused.
McKeon blamed bureaucratic hurdles for his delayed response.
"One of the great joys of working in the executive branch as opposed to the legislative branch is, you get to coordinate your letters with about 50 people. And the clearance process took longer than I would have liked," he said.
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