Sen. Chuck Hagel, a longtime public servant and decorated war veteran, is on the receiving end of criticism from his own party while his name is being floated as the next secretary of defense.
"It's an extraordinary situation when you have people who are rumored to be cabinet nominees, before their nomination, and certain groups launch attacks against them," Ambassador Nicholas Burns told Andrea Mitchell Reports on Thursday.
He drew a parallel to embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who took herself out of the running for secretary of state after Republican senators said they would block her nomination over comments she made after the Benghazi attacks.
"I thought she was being treated unfairly, and now I think Sen. Chuck Hagel is being treated in a similar fashion," Burns said. "I don't remember a time when two very significant and highly qualified public servants have been put through a trial by fire before they've even been nominated."
Without being formally nominated, potential cabinet members like Hagel and earlier this month, Rice, had to withstand attacks without the full backing of the Obama administration. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney came out and praised Hagel during the afternoon briefing Thursday, saying, "Sen. Hagel has been a remarkable servant to this country, a recipient of two purple hearts, he fought for this country and has served this country admirably."
"Sen. Hagel fought and bled for his country. He served his country well. He was an excellent senator, and I say that as someone who covered him," Carney said.
With the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff deadline looming, President Obama is expected to nominate cabinet officials in the new year.