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Former Sen. Chuck Hagel apologizes for gay comment

WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel, the former US senator believed to be President Obama’s top choice for defense secretary, apologized Friday for remarks he made in 1998 on an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.

In a brief written statement, the Republican said his comments about James C. Hormel were ‘‘insensitive’’ and did not reflect his views ‘‘or the totality of my public record.’’ The Vietnam veteran served two terms in the Senate, retiring in 2009.

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In an interview with the Omaha [Nebraska] World-Herald in 1998, Hagel said he thought that for a US ambassador, ‘‘it is an inhibiting factor to be gay.’’ He called Hormel ‘‘openly, aggressively gay.’’

‘‘I apologize toAmbassador Hormel and any LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights,’’ Hagel said in Friday’s statement. ‘‘I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.’’

Hagel, 66, is considered the leading candidate to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.

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