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Lack of access to Hagel archives another flashpoint

By Mike Mount, CNN
updated 8:51 PM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hagel's official papers from Senate service housed at university
  • Some senators say Hagel not living up to promise to be forthcoming
  • Hagel's confirmation process to be defense secretary has been rocky
  • Library dean says the situation with Hagel's papers is not unique

Washington (CNN) -- Official documents, correspondence and other papers from the period of time Chuck Hagel held his U.S. Senate seat are closed to public viewing by the archives entrusted to hold them.

The lack of access has created yet another controversy around the embattled nominee to become the next defense secretary, raising questions among some about whether he might be hiding something in those files.

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The ruckus started earlier this week when a reporter from the conservative publication, the Weekly Standard, tried to access the documents but was rebuffed by administrators at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

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The documents were given to the school by Hagel, who retired from the Senate after two terms in 2009.

The archive is comprised of legislative papers, including speeches, memos, handwritten letters, photos and other correspondence Hagel accumulated during his 12 years in office, according to the school.

Republicans not happy with Hagel, some of whom have questioned whether he has been truthful about his position on issues from Iran to Israel and Hezbollah, are now wondering what might be in his archives.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesman from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said there is good reason to deny access to the papers.

"Once the archive is processed and indexed, according to the standards and best practices of the Society of American Archivists, they will be open to the public. Until that time, they are not open to the public. We are working toward the day when the archive is processed and available to researchers," Charles Reed, a media relations coordinator at the school, said.

A spokesman for Hagel would not comment beyond what the university said and referred CNN to the school.

But some members of Congress looking for any documents that might contradict statements Hagel made at his recent confirmation hearing in the Senate say he is not living up to his pledge to be forthcoming about his record while he served there.

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"The University of Nebraska flatly denied a direct request from our office that they provide access to the archives to Senate staff and journalists," a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R- IL), said in an e-mailed response to CNN.

Kirk's office made the request earlier this week.

"The archive is filled with videos, speeches, letters, notes and other information about Sen. Hagel's record that senators have a right to review. We have requested Sen. Hagel's assistance in opening up the archive and are waiting for a reply from his confirmation liaisons at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Sen. Hagel promised he would provide senators access to all available information about his record and Sen. Kirk remains hopeful Sen. Hagel will keep his word," according to the statement.

Steve Shorb, dean of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's library, which houses the Hagel archives, says the status of the file is not unique.

"To my knowledge, none of the other senators who left office around that time have open archives either — these things take a long time," Shorb said.

Two former senators, who left office in the same year as Hagel, also have archives housed at public universities which are not open to the public or researchers yet.

The archives of Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Ted Stevens are kept by the library at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, respectively.

The website of the Domenici archives said boxes of documents arrived between 2007 and 2008 and are still being sorted and catalogued.

"The entire collection will take several years to complete," according to the Domenici archive website.

The archive for Stevens, who died in 2010, said the collection arrived the previous year and "parts of the collection that are not restricted will be reviewed and made available as soon as archival processing is complete."

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