PANETTA’S PROPRIETY…. Over the weekend, the New Yorker ran an item on CIA Director Leon Panetta, and early on in the lengthy piece, Panetta reflected on the recent attacks on the administration levied by Dick Cheney.

“I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” Panetta said, with surprising candor. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

I not only think Panetta’s remarks were fair, but also reflect a larger trend in conservative criticism of the administration.

Nevertheless, the CIA director drew some fire yesterday for the remarks. First from John McCain

“I disagreed with the Cheney policy on interrogation techniques, but never did it cross my mind that Dick Cheney would ever want an attack on the United States of America,” the former Republican presidential candidate said during an appearance on Fox News. “It’s unfair, and I think that Mr. Panetta should retract, and retract immediately.”

…and then from Cheney himself.

“I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted,” said Cheney in a statement provided to The Hill. “The important thing is whether or not the Obama administration will continue the policies that have kept us safe for the last eight years.”

For what it’s worth, the agency walked the comments back yesterday afternoon. “The Director does not believe the former Vice President wants an attack,” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said in a statement. “He did not say that. He was simply expressing his profound disagreement with the assertion that President Obama’s security policies have made our country less safe. Nor did he question anyone’s motives.”

I tend to think Panetta accidentally told the truth to the New Yorker (i.e., a Michael Kinsley Moment) but realizes it’s too impolitic a remark to stand behind, so the Gimigliano backpedaling is not surprising.

But what’s especially interesting is how little effort Republicans have made to raise a fuss about Panetta’s criticism. It was easy to imagine a full-court press by GOP lawmakers and Fox News, lashing out at the CIA director — but the tirade, at least thus far, is nowhere in sight.

Maybe Republicans don’t see an upside to a fight with the head of the CIA over whether Dick Cheney seems to want terrorists to hit the United States?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.