- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel refused to wait for his replacement before announcing his resignation
- The White House had hoped he would hold off until this week
- Hagel's frustrations with micromanagement led to his early departure
CNN has learned the White House wanted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to wait until this week to resign, so it would have a new nominee in place by then. But Hagel refused to wait, deciding if the White House was going to push him out, he wanted to make his resignation known as quickly as possible.
Hagel resigned a full week earlier on Nov. 24. A source very close to Hagel and the resignation process detailed that decision to CNN.
"Once the secretary saw that he would have to go, he wanted to move quickly," the source said. After months of frustration with the White House, Hagel wanted to "at least control his departure."
A second source highly familiar with the resignation of Hagel, and the search for a new nominee, tells CNN that in the days before he resigned, Hagel consulted both Republican and Democratic former senators about whether there was a way for him to stay on the job, and concluded there was not.
GOP Sen. John McCain told News Talk 550 radio in Arizona on the day Hagel resigned that the defense secretary had recently visited him and expressed his displeasure with the White House.
"I know Chuck was frustrated with aspects of the administration's national security policy and decision making process," McCain had said. "His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully.
McCain added: "Chuck's situation was no different."
Behind the scenes one close Hagel advisor is former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. It is not clear how closely the two men talked about this issue. Officials have characterized the decision to replace Hagel as mutual between the President and the secretary. A senior US official not in the Pentagon says the White House had become increasingly disenchanted with Hagel, feeling he was not clearly articulating White House strategy and Hagel had become frustrated.
Hagel's determination to resign on his own timing, began a series of events that has left the White House scrambling to find a nominee. Often, a replacement is announced at the same time a resignation is made public. Both sources tell CNN that the supposed front runner, Michele Flournoy, was not a fully vetted and selected candidate by the time Hagel resigned, and that she pulled her name after talks with the White House. Several people familiar with Flournoy's thinking say she decided to withdraw her name in part out of concern over dealing with White House micromanagement.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the second source says, was essentially put on the White House's so called short list after Flournoy withdrew to make it look like there were high-level candidates under consideration. But several sources tell CNN that Johnson quickly made it clear he didn't want to go through another confirmation hearing and was reluctant to leave DHS after less than a year on the job.
Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan also said they did not want the job.
That essentially left Ash Carter as the last candidate under serious consideration. But even on Tuesday, as the final touches were putting on the White House plans to announce Carter, still another administration official said the White House was going back one more time to see if there were other possible higher profile candidates. Carter is deeply respected inside the defense establishment, and has a long track record serving in a number of Pentagon jobs, but he is not likely to bring significant change to the Pentagon. Nearly one dozen Pentagon officials CNN has spoken to say they doubt this White House really wants a secretary of defense who will offer significant new ideas.