On Panetta CIA Pick, Obama Team Acknowledges ‘Mistake’ In Clumsy Politics — But Backs the (Yet Official) Pick

Jan 6, 2009 2:49pm

On Monday, after the New York Times first reported that President-elect Barack Obama intended to nominate former Congressman and Clinton White House chief of Staff Leon Panetta as director of the CIA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the incoming chair of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, did not seem pleased. "I know nothing about this, other than what I’ve read," she said. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."

Today at the Senate, Vice President-elect Joe Biden — there to be sworn in as Delaware’s senior Senator just a few days before he’ll relinquish the gig — acknowledged that the Obama team had messed up by not telling Feinstein ahead of time.

"I’m still a Senate man and I always think this way: I think it’s always good to talk to the requisite members of Congress." Biden told reporters

Of Feinstein not being given the courtesy call, Biden said, "I think it was just a mistake."

President-elect Obama, asked about the fact that Panetta is far from an intelligence professional, said he hadn’t made any formal announcement and then pivoted to praise Panetta to the heavens.

"I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta," said the President-elect. "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."

In what seemed to clearly be an implied slam (or should that be "slam dunk"?) about the current administration, Mr. Obama said that when his intelligence team is announced — which could be as early as Friday — "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."

The President-in-waiting also said that his intelligence team — which, in addition to Mr. Panetta, will also include Admiral Dennis Blair (Ret.) as his Director of National Intelligence — would also be a team "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."

– jpt

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