Obama Seeks to Ease Tensions Over Panetta Pick
Updated: 2:23 p.m.
President-elect Barack Obama sought to ease tensions today over his reported pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, calling Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) one day after the incoming chairman of the influential Intelligence Committee had voiced serious concern. Obama also praised Panetta in a discussion with reporters today, though he made a point of noting that the announcement was not official yet.
President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden both have called, [and] weve had substantive conversation, Feinstein said Tuesday. I understand their rationale on that appointment, and Ill keep that in mind.
Later in the afternoon, the Obama team released a video of a question-and-answer session at his transition headquarters. In it, he said, I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. … He brings extraordinary management skills. … He has an impeccable record of integrity.
Obama couched his comments slightly, adding, Having said that, I have not made the announcement. When we do, people will see were putting together a top-notch intelligence team. That team, he said, is committed to breaking with some of the past practices and concerns that have, I think, tarnished the image of the agencies.
Feinstein had been critical of Panettas lack of intelligence credentials, maintaining that the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”
But after receiving calls and apologies from Obama and Biden, Feinstein appears to be striking a more conciliatory tone.
Theyve apologized profusely, Feinstein said. Ive been around a long time. I know this happens.
Feinsteins initial concerns were shared by some other prominent Senators, including Intelligence Vice Chairman Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and outgoing Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
But on Tuesday, supporters started lining up for Panetta, a former Congressman from California who served as President Bill Clintons budget adviser and chief of staff.
Its more critical to assume that one has the management experience for the job, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said, noting Panettas tenure as a chief of staff. I have enormous respect for Leon Panetta, and I understand why he was chosen.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), also a committee member, also complimented Panettas résumé and said his lack of intelligence experience was not paramount.
Its not a deal breaker, he said.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), another Intelligence member, added: Leon Panetta is an outstanding public servant, and I intend to support his nomination for CIA director. We should respect the judgment of President-elect Obama and his commitment to do whats right for our country.