CBS’s Smith on Leon Panetta for CIA: ‘Somebody Who Can Connect the Dots’

Harry Smith, CBS On Wednesday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith talked to Michael Crowley, editor of the liberal magazine The New Republic, about some of Obama’s recent appointments, including former Clinton chief of staff, Leon Panetta, for CIA director: "Dianne Feinstein, had her, you know, was -- her feathers were ruffled to say the least. Is this just the way of the Senate saying you've got to go through us first? Or is there real opposition to Leon Panetta?"

Crowley explained that their was some "real opposition" to Panetta: "Now, a little bit controversial here...some people are concerned that Panetta does not have an intelligence background. Has never worked at the agency, never had a national security-specific job." However, Crowley quickly added: "Other people say he is a competent, tough, good organizer, and someone Obama trusts. So, looks like he's going to have a smooth confirmation after a little bit of initial complaints." Smith agreed and remarked: "Somebody who can connect the dots, maybe. That's the most important thing."

In addition to discussing Panetta, Smith also asked Crowley about Obama’s reported pick for surgeon general, CNN medical correspondent and CBS contributor, Sanjay Gupta: "Let's start with surgeon general, though. This leak yesterday that Sanjay Gupta may be the person to fill this job. Why does it make so much sense?" Crowley argued that Gupta would be the perfect spokesman for universal healthcare: "...Obama, you'll remember, is going to try to pass a major health care reform...It'll come as close to universal health care. And what he needs is people who can go out and explain to the American people, ‘this plan will work, you can trust me.’ He has a trustworthy face that a lot of people know and I think it's really going to help him sell the plan."

Smith also mentioned Bill Richardson having to step aside from the position of commerce secretary amid a financial scandal. Crowley mentioned one potential candidate to replace Richardson: "Well, there was a leak yesterday that Dick Parsons, another name from media, former CEO of Time Warner, who just stepped down in December." On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that: "Time Warner Cable says it expects to record a $15 billion noncash pretax impairment charge on its cable franchise rights in the fourth quarter, resulting in a loss for 2008."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:01AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: And in just a moment or two we're going to talk about cabinet appointments. What's going on in Washington? Is Dr. Sanjay Gupta going to become the Surgeon General of the United States? And why would a TV doctor be a good choice for that? We'll find out about that in a bit.

7:07AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: And a big day today for President-elect Barack Obama. He is moving to fill the remaining cabinet and senior positions in his new administration. We're joined by Michael Crowley, senior editor of The New Republic. Good morning.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Good morning.

SMITH: We have some question marks here. Question marks in the mysterians, the C.I.A. director. Let's start with surgeon general, though. This leak yesterday that Sanjay Gupta may be the person to fill this job. Why does it make so much sense?

CROWLEY: Well, great story, surprise pick. Normally a low-profile job. But here for the surgeon general, Obama is maybe the first president to have chosen a TV personality for the job. And that's because this job is really about communication. You're not passing legislation. You're really talking to the American public, and Obama, you'll remember, is going to try to pass a major health care reform.

SMITH: Huge.

CROWLEY: It'll come as close to universal health care. And what he needs is people who can go out and explain to the American people, ‘this plan will work, you can trust me.’ He has a trustworthy face that a lot of people know and I think it's really going to help him sell the plan.

SMITH: And just day-to-day, sort of, health issues in terms of how people eat, how they take care -- all those kinds of things-

CROWLEY: Eat better, preventative medicine, exactly right.

SMITH: Okay, Bill Richardson out of the picture, because of the ongoing grand jury investigation in New Mexico about money, where it went, who it went to, et cetera. He's gone. Who ends up there?

CROWLEY: Well, there was a leak yesterday that Dick Parsons, another name from media, former CEO of Time Warner, who just stepped down in December, who has been in the political mix, has been an Obama economic adviser, served on a Social Security reform panel around 2001. A guy who likes politics, likes policy. His name is floated, not confirmed yet. But this was a case were no-drama Obama didn't want Bill Richardson -- an investigation distracting from his cabinet appointment. So this is still to be determined, but this is the latest leak.

SMITH: And this news conference that President-elect Obama is doing today is to fill out the rest of his cabinet, including-

CROWLEY: Including-

SMITH: national security issues-

CROWLEY: Well, national security issues, CIA director. Another very interesting and somewhat unexpected name, Leon Panetta, who's a former California congressman and was also chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. Now, a little bit controversial here.

SMITH: Right. Dianne Feinstein, had her, you know, was -- her feathers were ruffled to say the least. Is this just the way of the Senate saying you've got to go through us first? Or is there real opposition to Leon Panetta?

CROWLEY: Some of both. Obama in part is learning that on Capitol Hill there are all these rules and formalities and you have to smooth all the right feathers to get things done, and so he has to keep that in mind. But also, some people are concerned that Panetta does not have an intelligence background. Has never worked at the agency, never had a national security-specific job. Other people say he is a competent, tough, good organizer, and someone Obama trusts. So, looks like he's going to have a smooth confirmation after a little bit of initial complaints.

SMITH: Yeah, there you go. Somebody who can connect the dots, maybe. That's the most important thing.

CROWLEY: Hopefully.

SMITH: Michael Crowley, as always, a pleasure.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC