Diary

Obama backs away from Panetta

President-elect Obama, stung by criticism from California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein and West Virginia Democrat Senator John Rockefeller backed away from the reported appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who this week begins her tenure as the first female head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was not consulted on the choice and indicated she might oppose it.

“I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director,” Feinstein said. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”

A senior aide to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the senator “would have concerns” about a Panetta nomination.

Rockefeller “thinks very highly of Panetta,” the aide said. “But he’s puzzled by the selection. He has concerns because he has always believed that the director of CIA needs to be someone with significant operational intelligence experience and someone outside the political realm.”

Panetta is a former California congressman and chief of staff to President Clinton.

The nomination was not officially announced to the news media, but rather leaked by anonymous sources.

Today, at a “media availability,” Obama started to throw Panetta under the bus:

Question: Some are – some are questioning Leon Panetta’s lack of intelligence – lack of experience on intelligence matters. Sorry about that. I know this is tricky for you since you haven’t announced it yet, but what does he bring to the table for you?

Obama: Well, as you noted, I haven’t made – haven’t made a formal announcement about my intelligence team.

(cell phone rings)

Obama: That may be him calling now… finding out where it’s at.

Obama: I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we have. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity.

As chief of staff, he is somebody who – to the president – he’s somebody who obviously was fully versed in international affairs, crisis management, and had to evaluate intelligence consistently on a day-to-day basis.

Having said all that, I have not made an announcement. When we make the announcement, I think what people will see is, is that we are putting together a top-notch intelligence team that is not only going to assure that I get the best possible intelligence unvarnished, that the intelligence community is no longer geared towards telling the president what they think the president wants to hear, but instead are going to be delivering the information that the president needs to make critical decisions to keep the American people safe.

I think what you’re also going to see is a team that is committed to breaking with some of the past practices and concerns that have, I think, tarnished the image of the agencies, the intelligence agencies, as well as U.S. foreign policy.

Last point I will make, though, on this is that there are outstanding intelligence professionals in the CIA, in DNI, and others, and I have the utmost regard for the work that they’ve done, and we are committed to making sure that this is a team effort that’s not looking backwards, but is looking forward to figure out how we’re going to serve the American people best, OK?

The President-elect could hardly backpedal fast enough.

Once again, as with Ayers, Blagojevich, Richardson, and Wright, to name a few, Obama is tripped up by his poor people judgment.