Sam Donaldson: Yes Burris, No Panetta

ABC News' Sam Donaldson shares his take on Roland Burris and Leon Panetta.

Jan. 6, 2009 — -- The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson.

Washington is abuzz today with two stories and it's hard to tell which is the most fascinating, because neither is about sex, which would have made the choice easy.

The Senate seems determined not to seat Roland Burris, appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to be a senator from Illinois. And the word leaked from the president-elect's camp is that Barack Obama wants Leon Panetta to be director of the CIA.

In my view, Burris -- whom I've never met and don't know -- should be seated. And Panetta, who I know quite well, like and respect, should not be CIA director.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and most of the other senators got themselves into a corner -- outraged as we all are by Blagojevich's alleged conduct -- by saying they would not seat anyone he appointed…without considering that as long as he is governor, Blagojevich has that right under the Constitution and laws of the state of Illinois.

Further, Blagojevich shrewdly appointed a person who appears, himself, to be scandal free, otherwise qualified…and…and…an African-American. Many other high-profile African-Americans are rallying behind Burris…and after all, African-Americans are a big segment of the people who brought Obama to the presidency.

Good luck in getting out of this one, Reid.

As to Panetta, well respected and admired by people in both parties for a lifetime of exemplary public service, at age 70 with virtually no experience in the intelligence community, he cannot be the right person to ride herd on the CIA, a band of tough people used to doing things in the shadows their own way, people smarting under the criticisms that they got it wrong on Iraq and got it wrong on torture, etc.

No, the next CIA director has to be an equally tough, knowledgeable person who can say to his new colleagues in Langley, Va., "I respect you but you are now going to do it a different way --- and you know I know how to make this happen."

So, if it comes to a court showdown over Burris and the Senate, based on what we know now about him and the appointment process, I think he will be seated. And when it comes to the next CIA director, I don't know who it will be, but I don't think it will be Panetta.

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from 1977-1989 and from January 1998 to August 1999, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show called "Politics Live."