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White House Acknowledges 'Friction' with Hagel and Pentagon

In this Jan. 7, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, and former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., walk past each other during a new conference in the East Room of the White House

While President Obama lavished praise Wednesday on departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the White House acknowledged that there had been "friction" with Hagel and the Pentagon on a range of issues.

At the regular White House news briefing Wednesday, which took place during Hagel's farewell ceremony, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz was asked whether Hagel was being shown the door because of "micromanagement" on policy from the White House staff.

"We, of course, always deeply value the input of our military leadership. That said, the president is the commander-in chief," Schultz said.

"The friction with the Pentagon, I believe - those who have been covering this White House much longer than I've been working here will tell you that's something that predates this administration," Schultz said.

However, Obama "has an open ear and values their input around the table or over the telephone," Schultz said.

He had been asked to respond to charges from former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, both of whom served under Obama, that the White House staff had sought to "micromanage" military policy over the protests of the Pentagon.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also said that Hagel complained to him privately about micromanagement.

Obama, Hagel, and White House and Pentagon officials have all maintained that Hagel's surprise announcement of his resignation in late November was the result of a "mutual decision" by Hagel and Obama, but they have been vague in stating the reasons for Hagel going just short of two years in the post.

The only sign of Hagel's possible displeasure was his absence from the White House announcement in early December that former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had been nominated to replace him.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing next week on Carter's nomination. Hagel has said he will remain at the Pentagon until the full Senate confirms Carter.

At the Armed Forces farewell ceremony Wednesday at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Hagel said he was leaving a job he "cherished" as the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as defense secretary.

"I am most proud of having once been a soldier," Hagel said.Hagel served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts. In his tribute to Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey noted that Hagel still carries shrapnel fragments from Vietnam in his chest.

Obama made no mention of any friction with the Pentagon as he heaped praise on Hagel, calling him a "true American patriot." Obama left the ceremony with his arm draped round Hagel's shoulder.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

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