November 26, 2014

Fortenberry regrets Hagel decision to resign as Defense Secretary

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry regrets that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has resigned.

Fortenberry says Hagel, a former United States Senator from Nebraska, was forthright when dealing with Congress.

“He’ll tell you what he thinks,” Fortenberry tells Kevin Thomas, host of Driver Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “The White House, the way it’s currently structured, they run things from inside there. They don’t appear to rely heavily on their secretaries, their cabinet members, for input and advice. So, if there was significant tension building, I think that’s the reason.”

Fortenberry says he doesn’t understand why Hagel apparently was forced to resign or the timing behind the resignation.

Fortenberry says that while the Obama Administration has had a strained relationship with Congress, Hagel stood out as a bright spot.

Fortenberry recalls when he requested Hagel meet with a bipartisan group from Congress and the Secretary agreed immediately.

“Again, it was a bipartisan group, robust conversation for an hour over breakfast, very much welcomed,” according to Fortenberry. “The White House has a very significant communications problem, almost non-existent with Congress. And, so, to me that was a marked sign of him trying to do things a bit differently.”

Fortenberry says it does appear Hagel resigned under pressure from people within the White House.

“I regret the decision, because I think he was laying down some clear markers that we have got to rethink 21st Century military structure and strategy to meet the ongoing needs of our national security and he was saying some hard things that need to be said.”

AG Bruning believes sentence miscalculations are over (AUDIO)

Attorney General Jon Bruning leafs through the investigation into the prison sentencing miscalculation

Attorney General Jon Bruning leafs through the investigation into the prison sentencing miscalculation

No criminal charges will be filed against Corrections officials who miscalculated prison sentences, leading to the early release of hundreds of inmates even as the Attorney General believes Corrections has put the problem behind it.

Attorney General Jon Bruning found incompetence, but not criminal intent on the part of officials at the Department of Correctional Services. He says the investigation reviewed everything, including the findings of a special legislative committee, which Bruning says at times got badly diverted.

“I thought the whole subpoena of the governor was odd and unnecessary,” Bruning says. “Here in Nebraska, we can walk down the hall and talk to each other and try to solve these problems. I thought it was an unnecessary piece of theater.”

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident. No inmates remain at large.

The Omaha World Herald broke the story in a special investigative piece, which launched a number of investigations, including that of a special legislative committee which held numerous hearings at the Capitol.

The law firm Jackson Lewis did a review of the steps that led to the sentence miscalculations. Gov. Dave Heineman instructed the Nebraska State Patrol to investigate the possibility of criminal conduct. A new Corrections Director has vowed to clean up the mess.

Bruning believes it has been cleaned up.

“I think we’re basically there,” Bruning says. “Do I think there’s something else they might find? Boy, I hope not.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

No criminal charges will be filed against Corrections employees in sentence miscalculation case (AUDIO)

Attorney General Jon Bruning makes a point during the news conference as Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly looks on

Attorney General Jon Bruning makes a point during the news conference as Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly looks on

No criminal charges will be filed against Department of Correctional Services employees for the miscalculation of prison sentences.

Attorney General Jon Bruning, along with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, have determined the misconduct in the prison system didn’t rise to a criminal offense.

“We have independently determined that we cannot prove what criminal law requires to convict any Department of Corrections employees,” Bruning told reporters during a news conference at his Capitol office. “Therefore, we are not able to bring criminal charges against any Department of Corrections employees.”

The two prosecutors considered charges of official misconduct and obstructing government operations, both misdemeanors.

Corrections officials failed to follow State Supreme Court rulings, miscalculating the prison sentences of hundreds of inmates.

Bruning stated incompetence and negligence aren’t a crime under the statutes.

“The inactions of Corrections employees, like not reading or not understanding a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, demonstrates incompetence and laziness. It doesn’t prove intentional or knowing violation of the law,” according to Bruning.

The Nebraska State Patrol investigated the Department of Correctional Services. NSP handed its investigation over to both Bruning and Kelly. The two conducted a review of the investigation independently. Both came to the same conclusion; that Corrections officials might have been incompetent, but they didn’t commit a crime.

“The bottom line is the level of incompetence we’ve seen from the legal team at the Department of Corrections is beyond the pale. It’s an embarrassment. It’s a blight upon our state government. I’m disappointed by it. I’m angered by it,” Burning stated. “And if I or the prosecutors in my office thought we could ethically bring criminal charges we would have pursued them. However, the incompetence displayed in this matter does not reach the level of a crime.”

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident. No inmates remain at large.

The Omaha World Herald broke the story in a special investigative piece, which launched a number of investigations, including that of a special legislative committee which held numerous hearings at the Capitol.

A special review of the miscalculations by the Jackson Lewis law firm of Lincoln places the most blame on George Green, the former top lawyer for Corrections. He retired rather than be fired. Also found at fault were records administrator Kyle Poppert, who was suspended; attorney Kathy Blum, who also was suspended; and attorney Sharon Lundgren, who retired. Records Manager Jeannene Douglass also was found at fault. She retired earlier.

The report exonerated former state Corrections Director Bob Houston, director at the time of the miscalculations.

AUDIO:  Attorney General Jon Bruning and Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly make announcement about Corrections investigation. [4 min.]

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel resigns as Sec. of Defense (AUDIO)

Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel announces his resignation as President Barack Obama looks on/Photo Courtesy of the Defense Department

Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel announces his resignation as President Barack Obama looks on/Photo Courtesy of the Defense Department

Former Nebraska United States Senator Chuck Hagel has resigned as Secretary of Defense.

President Barack Obama, in a White House announcement, thanked Hagel for his service.

“When I nominated you for this position, you said that you would always give me your honest advice and informed counsel. You have. When it has matter most, behind closed doors in the Oval Office, you’ve always given it to me straight. And for that I will always be grateful,” Obama stated.

Hagel made his announcement after the president spoke.

“I have today submitted my resignation as Secretary of Defense,” Hagel stated. “It has been the greatest privilege of my life, the greatest privilege of my life to lead and most important to serve, to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families.”

Reports out of Washington indicate Hagel resigned under pressure after a series of meetings with President Obama and White House officials. Hagel, a Republican serving in a Democratic administration, had been Secretary of Defense for less than two years.

Hagel, flanked by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, gave no indication of disagreement with the administration.

Hagel listed a number of accomplishments during his nearly two years as secretary.

“We have prepared ourselves, as the president has noted, our allies and Afghan national security forces for successful transition in Afghanistan,” according to Hagel. “We’ve bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships while successfully responding to crises around the world. And we’ve launched important reforms that the president noted, reforms that will prepare this institution for challenges facing us for decades to come.”

Hagel said he was proud of his accomplishments as Secretary of Defense.

“I believe we have set not only this department, the Department of Defense, but the nation on a stronger course toward security, stability, and prosperity,” Hagel stated. “If I didn’t believe that I would not have done this job.”

Hagel said he would stay on as Secretary of Defense until President Obama appointed and the United States Senate confirmed his successor.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, released the following statement regarding Hagel’s resignation.

“Secretary Hagel has dedicated much of his life to public service in a number a capacities: in uniform in Vietnam, as senator from my home state of Nebraska, and as the Secretary of Defense. I thank him for his service.

“Our world is only growing increasingly dangerous. As Russia maneuvers to gain regional strength, Iran flouts international nuclear obligations, and extremist groups like ISIL continue their violent campaign of terror, it’s clear that we need decisive, strong leadership at the Pentagon. As I’ve said so many times before, we must adopt a strong strategy to combat threats to our national security and the secretary of defense is responsible for leading in this important endeavor. I look forward to a complete and thorough vetting of the President’s nominee for the next Secretary of Defense.”

Sen. Mike Johanns issued the following statement:

“I want to thank Chuck Hagel for his service over the last two years as Secretary of Defense. From his distinguished military service, to his time representing the people of Nebraska in the United States Senate, and now as Defense Secretary, Chuck’s exemplary career showcases his commitment to serving our country. As a long-time friend and fellow Nebraskan, I wish him the best.”

AUDIO:  President Barack Obama announces resignation of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. [10 min.]

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel reportedly stepping down as Defense Secretary

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at a UNO appearance/Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Omaha

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at a UNO appearance/Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Omaha

Reports out of Washington, in particular the Washington Post and the New York Times, say that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has submitted his resignation under pressure.

Hagel, a former Republican United States Senator from Nebraska, has been Secretary of Defense for less than two years. According to the newspaper reports, Hagel resigned after holding a series of discussions with President Barack Obama and other White House officials in recent weeks.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post Obama and Hagel “both determined that it was time for new leadership at the Pentagon.”

The New York Times reports Hagel’s stepping is the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team to respond to an onslaught of global crises.

The Times reports Obama is expected to announce Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance today.

The Times also reports Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, who is 68, is a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Hagel was brought on to employ.