There was much ado about nothing when, last Monday, the incoming Obama administration floated the name of Leon Panetta, former chief of staff in the Clinton administration, to be the new head of the CIA. In particular, there was a big explosion from Diane Feinstein, the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, about the fact that Panetta had not been floated past her as a potential nominee before the name got out into the press, a serious breach of Capitol Hill etiquette.
The first stories about this seemed to fall along the lines of either ‘well, it was a bit of a misstep’ or ‘well, the name was leaked accidentally, so it goes.’ Rachel Maddow, on the other hand, had a different opinion:
Yes, I know it’s a 10-minute clip. Only the first 5 minutes are totally relevant, and I’ll try to transcribe the key bit (right around the 5-minute mark) here:
We had them (Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller) to count on to expose, to bring to light, criminal acts like torture, like wholesale breaking of the wiretapping laws, like indefinite detention, these criminal acts perpetrated by our own government. It was under their watch. The consequence of that failure? It’s, well, maybe it’s that you don’t get the first call when the incoming president is deciding who to select as his incoming CIA director. The implicit message is that you were on the wrong side of history on this one – you sat on your hands, and you don’t run this show anymore, no matter what party you’re in. Accountability.
I’d love to believe that Maddow is right, and that this story really is some sort of brushback pitch thrown by the Obama administration, letting folks like Feinstein know that, well, as the lady said – you were wrong, so suffer the consequences.
Unfortunately, I’m too cynical to think that this is really what’s going on. My best guess is that the name leaked early, and Feinstein chose to use the opportunity to do a little public posturing. As Maddow notes in the above clip, this is somewhat unconscionable, since Feinstein said, during the confirmation of Porter Goss, a non-career intelligence guy, to this very same post, that President George W. Bush had the prerogative to name anyone he saw fit to the spot. Glad to know that the President from your own party gets the same benefit of the doubt, Di.
Fortunately, this little spat didn’t last long, and by Wednesday, Feinstein had already come around on the idea of Panetta at the head of CIA.
Although Benen speculates that Feinstein’s conversion had to do with a promise to keep a longtime intelligence type as second-in-command, my guess is that she get her head busted a little bit by Rahm Emannuel over the issue, especially in light of her previous arguments about presidential prerogative in this realm. I can only hope so, really – although I am totally in favor of a strong, independent congressional Democratic caucus, there’s absolutely no call for airing this sort of dirty laundry in public, and I’m glad that the whole thing passed over quite quickly, hopefully with the message sent that this sort of thing would not happen again.