Who’s Staying for Hagel: Lettre to acting chief of staff; Lippert, Chollet, King to remain

Marcel J. Lettre II, deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, will serve as acting chief of staff to Chuck Hagel when he takes over the Pentagon as early as next week, multiple sources tell the E-Ring.

For weeks, Lettre (pictured above, left, red tie) has run Hagel’s transition team and has been a leading contender for the coveted chief of staff post. Panetta’s longtime chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, is expected to leave the Pentagon. Lettre’s role was explained in an email to staffers, but it is unclear if Hagel will tap him for the post permanently.

Hagel’s close aide, Aaron Dowd, is expected to have a job waiting for him after Hagel’s confirmation, if he wants. But as an outsider to government, Dowd first would have to go through the process of entering the high-security job. Hagel needs a chief of staff on day one.

Lettre leads a growing list of Panetta holdovers expected to stay in place at the Defense Department under Hagel.

Lettre ran Panetta’s transition from CIA director to the E-Ring in 2011 and has been a frequent world traveller with the SecDef. Previously, Lettre was principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. Before coming to DOD, he was senior defense and intelligence advisor and, later, senior national security advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Several key players will remain in the policy shop, headed by Under Secretary Jim Miller (he's staying, too). Notably, Mark Lippert will stay on as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs. Lippert is a longtime Obama loyalist, rising from foreign policy advisor to then-Senator Obama to serve as the president’s National Security Council chief of staff in the White House. Lippert is a former Navy intelligence officer who served in Iraq, holds a B.A and M.A. from Stanford University, and studied Mandarin in Beijing. But he remains a bit of a quiet man in the Pentagon, largely avoiding public exposure despite the attention on the military's role in the pivot to Asia.

Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security, will also stay put. Chollet is traveling with Panetta on Wednesday to this week’s NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels. The international security portfolio is wide-ranging, crossing several geographic regions. Chollet took the job just last year, replacing Sandy Vershbow, now deputy secretary general of NATO.

The Pentagon’s top legislative liaison, Elizabeth King, also is staying on board, the E-Ring is told. King, the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, has enough work just dealing with the many budget issues before Congress, including the sequester negotiations, the unresolved fiscal 2013 budget, and the now tardy fiscal 2014 budget request.

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett