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Obama nominates Rahul Verma as Hillary's top aide

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
March 12, 2009 06:43 IST
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President Barack Obama has nominated Rahul 'Richard' Verma, currently a partner with the top-notch international law firm in Washington,DC -- Steptoe & Johnson LLP -- as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, and sources told Rediff India Abroad that considering that he has been a much respected Congressional staffer, his confirmation process before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the coming weeks would be a shoo-in.

Obama, who besides Verma, also nominated several others, including career diplomat Christopher Hill, currently Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs as Ambassador to Iraq, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, currently Deputy Chairman of NATO's Military Committee as Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Ivo Daalder, currently Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, as US Ambassador to NATO, said, "I am honored and grateful that these dedicated public servants have agreed to join my Administration as we work to tackle the great challenges of our time."

"These extraordinarily accomplished individuals have served their country with great distinction, and they have each agreed to take on tough assignments," he said.

Obama predicted that "I am confident that they will work with a sense of purpose and pragmatism , along with Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton and (Secretary of Defense Robert) Gates, as we renew American diplomacy, strengthen our military, and advance our values and interests around the world."

Congressional sources said considering "his impeccable track record when he was up here on the Hill, and the fact that he was close to many US Senators since he was an adviser to the Senate Democratic Caucus, many of whom are members of the Foreign Relations Committee, his confirmation will be a formality".

Indications, that he was slated to be appointed as a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were evident, when Verma was seated behind then Secretary of State designate  Clinton during her confirmation process before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year.

Verma, who, until recently was the highest ranking Indian American Congressional aide on Capitol Hill, as Chief National Security Adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, once confirmed by the Senate as  Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, would make him the highest-ranking Indian American ever in the US Department of State.

During President-elect Obama's transition, Verma was appointed one of the leads of the Agency Review Team overseeing the US Department of Defense for the Transition.

At the time he told Rediff India Abroad, that he was "on leave from Steptoe & Johnson for a few weeks" to fulfill this assignment on the Obama-Biden transition.

Earlier, Verma, had been appointed to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism but the Obama transition had said he could remain on this Commission even as he worked as a member of the Pentagon Agency Review Team.

Verma had been appointed to this Congressional Commission by the Congressional leadership comprising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Reid, House Republican Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Commission, established by House Resolution 1, implements a key recommendation of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission and builds on the Congressional commitment to address the threat that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to the United States.

Sources said at the time he was seen as part of then Secretary of State-designate Clinton's team, that "a combination of factors," including being strongly recommended by the Obama transition team and Reid himself had led to Clinton tapping him for the post.

Verma has not worked for Clinton at any time although in working in the "Leadership Office would necessarily involve interacting with almost every member of the Senate Caucus," one source said.

But the source acknowledged that the fact that Clinton was taking him on her team, "speaks volumes for his credentials and track record and the connections he has on Capitol Hill and as an expert on the Congressional process," particularly since the former First Lady and Senator traditionally had always brought in her own team of those who had worked for her for years.

A veteran of the US Air Force, during this stint as principal national security and foreign policy adviser to Reid, Verma was responsible for setting the national security agenda and developing a legislative strategy in the Senate.

He was also the senior defense and foreign policy liaison to key Senate committees, the office of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives and the White House.

Verma, was also the point man in terms of communications and political advice to the Majority Leader, Committee chairmen and members of the Democratic Caucus.

At the time, he worked on Capitol Hill, Verma had Top Secret/Secure Compartmentalized Information security clearance.

He is an alumnus if LeHigh University, which he attended on an Air Force ROTC Scholarship and graduated with honors, receiving his bachelor of science degree in 1990.

During his senior year, he was class president, American University Law School, from where he graduated cum laude in 1993 and the Georgetown University Law Center, from here he received his LLM with distinction in 1998.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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