Pushback against Panetta

PUSHBACK AGAINST PANETTA…. Barack Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta as the next head of the CIA has generated a wide variety of responses, but some of the most aggressive pushback has come from a few Senate Democrats.

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.”

Some of this may be the result of bruised egos. As the incoming chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein didn’t expect to help make the choice, but she “wanted the courtesy of knowing about it” before the selection made headlines. Panetta’s name leaked, but word didn’t come from the transition office, and it was not a deliberate move to do an end-run around Feinstein.

But at this point, Feinstein and Rockefeller are hardly the most credible of critics. Rockefeller was a feckless ranking member of the Intelligence Committee during much of Bush’s presidency. As for Feinstein, as John Cole noted, she “had no problem voting yea for Porter Goss, George Tenet, and Michael Hayden, as well as Mike Mukasey, Robert Mueller, and Donald Rumsfeld,” so it’s odd that she’d try to “knee-cap her own party’s nominee for CIA.” Digby added, “The fact is that DiFi is actually implicated in the torture regime and should just shut up on this.”

Feinstein and Rockefeller notwithstanding, the Panetta selection, which won’t be official until later this week, has drawn a fair amount of praise from credible voices. Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), chairman of a House Intelligence Committee oversight panel, said Panetta would help bring some needed accountability and reform to the agency. David Corn offered a similar sentiment. CQ‘s Jeff Stein, a leading voice on intelligence reporting, explained that Obama is demonstrating his commitment to breaking with Bush-era policies, and Panetta would be well positioned to make a significant difference.

Former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer (D), a former 9/11 commissioner, president of the Center for National Policy, and an expert on intelligence reform, addressed the notion that Panetta doesn’t have a background with the agency: “I think that underestimates his chief of staff experience, when you’re dealing with the CIA and the national security administration on a daily basis. He has about three years of experience dealing with the heads of agencies, with crises, and with national and foreign policy issues. I think he does bring a knowledge of the CIA and good national security experience from both his time on the Hill and the Iraq study group…and as chief of staff to the president where you’re immersed in it on an hourly basis.”

And a career intel professional told Josh Marshall there’s reason for optimism: “Panetta is a skilled operator, he knows how to get things done. He knows how to get a budget approved and to make the wheels of government work. He will be a force – both in the Administration and on the Hill — much larger than any career guy could be. This is good. It gives the CIA the opportunity to re-create itself within the current structure.”

We don’t yet know how difficult Feinstein will make the confirmation process. Stay tuned.