Obama Taps Panetta, Defends Choice

Posted January 9, 2009 at 11:19am

President-elect Barack Obama on Friday sought to defend his pick to head the CIA, former Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.), emphasizing his strong support for the former top Clinton administration aide who has impeccable credentials.

“Leon is one of the finest public servants of our time,” Obama said during an appearance at transition headquarters in Washington.

“As a Congressman, OMB director and White House chief of staff, he has had unparalleled experience in making the institutions of government work better for the American people,” he added. “He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels.”

Panetta’s lack of experience working directly at an intelligence agency has provoked questions in some circles, including among Senate Democrats, about his qualifications.

“Let me be clear: In Leon Panetta, the agency will have a director who has my complete trust — and substantial clout,” Obama said.

Obama spoke as he formally announced Panetta as his CIA pick as well as two other national security choices, Adm. Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence and John Brennan to serve as White House homeland security adviser and deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism.

Panetta, for his part, pledged to work closely with Congress.

Obama during his appearance also sought to minimize reports of differences with Democrats over the size of tax cuts in his forthcoming stimulus package, noting that there was agreement on the plan’s ultimate goals. Obama said his transition had succeeded in establishing a “framework” for the legislation.

He pledged to include other “good ideas” in the plan, but continued to stress his desire for Congress to act quickly.