Roundtable on the Panetta Nomination

Roundtable on the Panetta Nomination

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - January 6, 2009


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT: I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we have had. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy.

KIT BOND, (R-MO) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: I have yet to see where Mr. Panetta has the kind of experience you need to run an agency which is very complex and very important to our national security.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R-GA) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: How important is experience in the world of spying on our enemies? It's pretty dad-gum important.


BAIER: "Pretty dad-gum important." Two Senate Republicans reacting to word that Leon Panetta will be the pick to head the CIA under the Obama administration.

You heard the president-elect today answering a question about Leon Panetta, but saying he has yet to officially announce his pick.

So what about the fallout from this selection? Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call," and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Charles, we saw today that Dianne Feinstein, the California senator, said that she got a call from both the president-elect and the vice president-elect, a personal talking to, apologizing that she was not informed. She is the incoming chairwoman of the intelligence committee in the Senate, that they were not talking about this selection.

What about this fallout?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That was a huge unforced error, but that's a matter of etiquette. And, to some extent, it's been repaired.

The real issue here, I think, is the substance of it. And what is really interesting is the irony of the Democrats, who complained for eight years about how much intelligence had been politicized under the Bush administration, and here is a Democrat who comes in and he appoints a man whose only recommendation in this office is political. It certainly isn't experience.

He's close with the president, and presumably he will guard the president's back, and he will be the president's man in the CIA.

The other irony, however, is that the reason that Panetta is here and not the man that Obama originally had wanted, John Brennan, who had been in the CIA, is that anybody who had been in the Bush CIA is tainted because of the policies of interrogation, secret prisons, and the eavesdropping which had occurred.

Those are precisely the elements which kept us safe and which have prevented a second attack, which nobody has expected. So anybody who has been involved in those elements of a program which saved American lives is now automatically out of contention for the top job.

It tells us that the Obama agenda will likely be to purge and perhaps even persecute anybody in the CIA who had been engaged in those elements which actually saved us over the last seven years.

BAIER: In fact, Mort, some websites were praising the Panetta pick for that reason.

But yet we hear from Jim Angle, according to sources, that the Obama transition team is urging the deputy CIA director, Steven Kappes--and we have some video of him on the left of the screen--and other top deputies to stay on to offer experience Panetta may lack. There is Steven Kappes on the left walking next to the president.

So do you think that will withstand the pressure from the left?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": I think one of the most important statements that Barack Obama has got to make right soon is that there will be no punishments or purges or witch hunts of people in the intelligence community for what was done during the Bush administration.

As Charles said, the country was kept safe ever since 9/11. There has not been an attack. These people did what they did under orders and with patriotism. And Obama should make it clear that none of them is going to be held to account for what they did.

Secondly, what he has indicated, what Obama indicated by his statement today is that the left does have a veto over people who are going to be the head of the CIA.

Panetta is not anti-intelligence. That's the good news. He is very smart. He is very even-handed. He is very experienced in the ways of government. He was an intelligence consumer as White House Chief of Staff, but he is not experienced, and he doesn't have this quote, unquote, "taint."

So I think if you're not going to choose somebody who is a pro. like either Kappes or John Brennan, then he is about as good as you are going to get, because he is not a lefty.

BAIER: Fred, his experience as intelligence consumer was pre- 9/11. Does that make a difference?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I don't think the experience thing matters much at all, really.

But he was also there as White House chief of staff when President Clinton issued a presidential order authorizing rendition--you know, where you send somebody you captured to a separate country, in this case Egypt, where he may be treated a little more harshly than if he were interrogated by American agents.

Now, Charles touched on what is the most important thing--after the Bush administration for Barack Obama, and that's getting somebody to head the CIA who is loyal to him.

Look what happened to President Bush when he was there. In 2003 and 2004, after holding on to George Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration as head of the CIA, what gushed out of that agency in those two years leading right up to Bush's reelection in 2004 were classified leaks by people who wanted to destroy President Bush and deny him reelection.

The CIA was divided, and it was out of control. And I think Obama, rightly, has picked Panetta, someone loyal to him, who will not let that happen, and that is terribly important.

Now, I have my qualms about Panetta, because he may not be anti- intelligence, but he always wanted to cut the budget of the CIA, and I think he needs to be questioned carefully. But the motive of Obama, I think, is the correct one in picking him.

BAIER: So, quickly, is this nomination in trouble in any way?

BARNES: I doubt it.

KONDRACKE: I don't think so.

KRAUTHAMMER: No, not at all. It absolutely will pass.

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