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Transcript: Leon Panetta: Worthy Fights

The full episode transcript for Leon Panetta: Worthy Fights.
Image: Leon Panetta
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta delivers his speech to Georgetown University students and faculty on leadership and public service in Washington, on Feb. 6, 2013.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg

301. Leon Panetta: Worthy Fights

Chuck Rosenberg: Welcome to The Oath, and for many of you, welcome back. I’m Chuck Rosenberg, and I am honored to be your host for another compelling conversation with a fascinating guest from the world of public service. This is our Season Three premiere, and I am very pleased to share a conversation with Leon Panetta, one of the most distinguished and most accomplished public servants in American history. Leon was raised in Monterey, California, the place where his father, Carmelo, the youngest of thirteen children all born in Italy, ultimately settled. Carmelo Panetta could not have dreamed, he could not have imagined that his son, Leon, would serve eight terms in the United States House of Representatives, as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, as the White House Chief of Staff, as the Director of the CIA, and as the Secretary of Defense. It has been a remarkable career and a remarkable life for Leon Panetta: a humble, thoughtful, intelligent, and kind man. I had the opportunity to interview Leon in his office at the Panetta Institute, at the campus of Cal State University, Monterey Bay, with his dog, Bubba, and his dog, in law, copper, by his side. Leon Panetta, welcome to The Oath.

Leon Panetta: Good to be with you.

Rosenberg: And thank you for having me to your office and the campus of Cal State University Monterey Bay.

Panetta: It's a campus that is located on what was the old Fort Ord military reservation. When I was in Congress, we fought the process on closing Fort Ord for about two rounds, and lost on the third round, they closed Fort Ord, which was about 25% of the local economy. So, you can imagine it was a pretty good blow. And the community came together and we decided that a campus would be a good reuse of the base and we were able to get California State University--the chancellor-- guy named Barry Munis was very helpful, and we located the campus here and now it's a thriving campus and I guess I've always said it's the ultimate conversion of swords into plowshares.

Rosenberg: But I wanted to go back even further than the creation of this wonderful campus. Because in your book, you write about your father coming to the United States from his native Italy on a ship called The Providence--third class passenger with $25 in this pocket. What a remarkable story.

Panetta: It was something I've always been fascinated by, to think that here's somebody who comes from a peasant background, in Calabria, Italy, and his village was one of those located up in the mountains called Gerace Superiore, which means: “up in the mountains.” It's kind of a walled city up there. They were in the countryside and, you know, were truly peasants. He served in World War One, the Italian Army, and fought in the Battle of the Piave Valley, which was a pretty brutal battle. He did talk about his memories from that battle, he was wounded. Ultimately, he was able to get out. And it was soon after he got out of the military that he made the decision to come over to this country. He had several brothers who had come over ahead of him. His oldest brother, Bruno, settled in Sheridan, Wyoming. And he had another brother who was closer to him, Tony, my father was the youngest of 13. And he had a close relationship with Tony and I think, because of that, he really wanted to come over. And to suddenly leave your home country and travel thousands of miles--this is not like there was Google or the internet or any idea where the hell he was going. He just--he decided to get on a ship, the Providence. My youngest son was the one who looked up that ship and actually gave me a photo of that ship that I got up on the wall. He also looked up The Manifest and The Manifest had “Carmelo Panetta, occupation peasant.”

Rosenberg: Wow.

Panetta: He had 25 bucks in his pocket, which, you know, 25 bucks, at that time probably wasn't a paltry sum, but it's what he had, came through Ellis Island, and I think, ultimately, actually made his way out to California where Tony was located and spent some time working, I think in some of the restaurants in California. And then, sometime in the late 20s, he decided that he wanted to go back to Italy to find a wife, and went back and found my mother.

Rosenberg: Fortunately, for you.

Panetta: Absolutely.

Rosenberg: But you were born in Monterey.

Panetta: I was born in Monterey. When they came over together after my father and mother met in married--in Italian families, it was more of an arrangement than something where you kind of fall in love--but my dad spotted my mother in the back of a church in my mother's hometown. It's near Reggio Calabria Siderno—is what it’s called--Siderno Marina, which is near the ocean. And he was in a church there, good sized church, and he was in the back, and my mother and her sisters came to church and he spotted my mother. And then, the next step was to go to the family, and went to my, my Nonno, my grandfather, and my Nonna, and ask permission to be able to go with her and then hopefully marry. And it was on the basis that he would be bringing her back to America. And my grandmother didn't like the idea that she would be going to America, but my grandfather, who was a merchant mariner, who had sailed around the world on the old sailing ships, and had been everywhere, from Australia to God knows where, to America, my Nonno said, “No, no, no, no, it's America is a great country, and we shouldn't worry it'll be it'll be Good for them to be able to do that.” So, my parents got married and came over. Their first stop was with his older brother, Bruno, in Sheridan, Wyoming. And I've often said this that they spent one winter and Sheridan, Wyoming. And my mother said, “it's time to visit your other brother in California.”

Rosenberg: Your parents had grown up in southern Europe, it had to be a bit cold.

Panetta: Yeah, it was kind of a shock to their system to go through a winter in Sheridan, and they managed to make it out to California and my dad, I think, was working in some restaurants in Southern California. And then they made it up here to Monterey. I've often wondered why I was blessed with have been born in Monterey. I think it was because he had a friend who was also a Calabrese, who he knew from Wyoming, who is located in Monterey, fellow named Dominic Luscri. And I think he came here to hook up with Dominic. And he worked in a restaurant locally and then, working with Dominic, they established a restaurant and bar together in downtown Monterey. It was a corner property.

Rosenberg: Carmelo’s cafe.

Panetta: It was Carmelo’s Cafe on one side, Dominic's Bar on the other side, and there was a swinging door between the bar and the restaurant. I think this was late 30s or early 40s. And Monterey, at that time, was just a jump in town. Here, there was a fishing community--

Rosenberg: The subject of Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Panetta: Exactly, was Steinbeck, who then wrote about, you know, Cannery Row, which was a whole set of canneries that were tanning the salt means that we're being caught and the wives of the fisherman who are catching it. Usually we're working in the canneries on Cannery Row. And in addition to that with Fort Ord, now, this military reservation, it was a major training post for young men from across the country who were being trained for the battlefields of World War Two. And so, you can imagine the Monterey was kind of their last stop with civilization before they would go to war. So, downtown Monterey, I remember as a kid, it was full of soldiers and uniform sailors. There were MPs who are wandering Alvarado Street to make sure that didn't get in trouble. My mother, who handled the cash register at the restaurant, had a button under her cash register to call the MPs in case they got out of line. The soldiers would come in, they'd love to get spaghetti and meatballs from my father's restaurant, but then, they immediately go into Dominic's for drinks or ordered drinks.

Rosenberg: They're one swinging door away.

Panetta: One swinging doorway. And every once in a while, they got unruly and my mother had to push that button. My earliest recollections were as a young boy, I was standing on a chair in the back of that restaurant, washing glasses. It was all done with hot water--you lower the glasses into the hot water, and rinse them--I was doing some of that. And I've often said it's because my parents believed that child labor was a requirement. But, it was a great experience. When I became Secretary of Defense, I remembered back to those days because my parents would invite the soldiers, particularly if--they were a lot of Italian soldiers from New York, and they were coming by--but they would invite them to our house for holidays, Christmas. Easter. I can remember them, you know, enjoying, you know, my mother's food, talking Italian, and thinking to myself, these young men are going to go off to war. You know, God knows what's going to happen to them. And I thought about that as Secretary because the toughest job I had, as Secretary of Defense was to sign those deployment orders that placed these-- young men and women in uniform now--placed them in harm's way.

Rosenberg: And in fact, you had to sign those orders as Secretary of Defense. That was your obligation.

Panetta: That's right, every week, guide sit down, and we would go over all of the deployment orders for the various units. And a lot of that was to the war zones.

Rosenberg: I want to go back to Monterey for just a moment though, because it sounds like a wonderful place to grow up.

Panetta: In Monterey, I mean, there's the great Monterey Bay and the fishing fleets, but Monterey has a downtown area, but then rising up from the downtown area, is a hill area, it was known as “Spaghetti Hill,” because a lot of the Italians lived up there. And my parents lived up there on Van Buren street in Monterey. My brother was five years old at the time, and we spent a lot of time playing with other kids up there. It was a community where families took care of each other and took care of the children that were there. It was really kind of a community feeling to grow up there. I can remember going to Catholic grammar school and walking from Spaghetti Hill, Van Buren Street. I think I walked about 10 blocks to go to the grammar school. And you think about that these days. I mean, you know, the buses and all of that, you know, no, I was--I was just, you know, a little kid about seven, seven, eight years old. And we would walk all of that distance to go to the Catholic school, and walk back. It was a great place to grow up because there were a lot of other Italian families, but it was also a great community. In many ways, this community traces its history back to the Spanish, to Father Serra, who came through this community. But a lot of the early explorers settled here, actually, a Presidio was built up here, a Spanish military unit was placed here at the Presidio. The Admiral Sloat landed at Monterey and actually placed the flag of the United States here at Monterey, proclaiming California as a part of the United States. And that took place in Monterey. The community was a real mix of a lot of different races and beliefs and creeds and everybody really did get along. It's a good community.

Rosenberg: You tell a wonderful story, and a moving story in your book, about your mother's father, your grandfather, Nonno.

Panetta: Yeah.

Rosenberg: Joining you here as a tourist, as a visitor, but getting swept up in some of the world war two internment hysteria.

Panetta: You can imagine, as a young boy who got very close to my grandfather, he had come over to visit my mother in 1938, shortly after I was born. What happened was that the war broke out. And of course, Italy, was an ally of Germany. And that war, they would not allow my grandfather to go back to Italy. And for the first few years, he lived with us in Monterey, and largely took care of my brother and I particularly me, because I was the youngest. I got to know him really well. He was a loving guy and big guy, over six feet tall, loved to talk with other Italians, and they would engage in these long conversations about the war and Mussolini and what the hell was going to happen in the war. And I can remember playing around while he was talking and he'd have one of these Tuscan LA cigars in his mouth, had his hat on, and he would be talking with them, and they could just hear that, even today, you know, those voices of all these Italians talking. And he would bring me down to the wharf and we'd fish off the wharf and he was a fisherman at one point in the area. Then, what happened was, for some reason, I mean, we know that Japanese obviously we're all gathered up and put into internment camps. But for some reason, there was a decision made that if you were an Italian alien, that you could not live near the coastal areas. An order went out to move all of these Italians inland and so my grandfather had to be moved to San Jose, which isn't that far away, it's kind of silly what happened here, but we had to pack him up. We found a boarding house in San Jose, and we all drove up together. And I can remember as a young boy, really feeling shattered that our Nonno was not going to be with us and had to be placed in San Jose. And I think that went on for well over a year, year and a half. And eventually, you know, he came back, and lived with us before he went back to Italy. But, I never forgot that experience because, you know, I had a little bit of the feeling of what the Japanese might have felt, in terms of being interned.

Rosenberg: Our treatment of Japanese Americans and that period was a real dark stain on the country and the Supreme Court decision that affirmed their removal and relocation Korematsu, probably one of the two or three worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. But, many people don't know that some German Americans and some Italian Americans, and then some Italian aliens, like your grandfather, were also moved.

Panetta: Yeah, yeah, no, no, it's a, it's kind of a forgotten part of history. It brought home to me how truly fragile our democracy can be and what can happen in those kinds of crises.

Rosenberg: Our democracy, our rule of law, is really just a construct. It's made by people, it's preserved by people, that can be undermined by people.

Panetta: Exactly. Exactly.

Rosenberg: You had the remarkable opportunity to serve Monterrey in the United States Congress, first elected in 1976. I can only imagine how your father must have processed that--his son becoming a member of the Congress of the United States.

Panetta: I was really happy that my father was alive when I got elected to Congress. My mother had died of cancer, but my father actually went back to Italy, remarried, brought my stepmother back to the country. We were living in Carmel Valley, that's where the family home was. And what my dad did was he built a little house, a guest house, moved into that guest house, and Sylvia and I and the boys moved into the main house.

Rosenberg: Sylvia, your wife?

Panetta: Yeah, Sylvia, my wife and our three sons moved into the main house. To make the decision to run for Congress was something--I mean, look I'd been in Washington, I'd worked as a legislative assistant

Rosenberg: For a senator from California.

Panetta: It was--he was a republican senator from California, Thomas Kuchel. Tom Kuchel came out of the Hiram Johnson legacy in California. Hiram Johnson was a republican governor in California, who was very progressive, supported civil rights, supported labor laws and a whole series of reforms. Actually, the initiative process was created by Hiram Johnson. That progressive republican tradition carried on with Earl Warren, who became governor, Goodie Knight--Tom Kuchel came out of that legacy.

Rosenberg: Even Dwight Eisenhower.

Panetta: Exactly. Kuchel and Eisenhower are very close because of that tradition. And so, when I got out of the army, after two years of service, I was able to get the job with Tom Kuchel and went back, and Kuchel was the minority whip. I often say, I've seen Washington at its best and Washington at its worst. I recall those days because republicans, like Kuchel, like Jacob Javits, like Clifford Case from New Jersey, Hugh Scott from Pennsylvania, George Aiken from Vermont, Mark Hatfield from Oregon. We're working with Democrats like Jackson and Magnuson, Dick Russell, Sam Ervin, and Fulbright--they were giants. But, they work together on legislation. And that was true, and I actually was elected to Congress. I work with Kuchel, he was defeated by a right winger. It was the beginning of the divisions in the Republican Party. Max Rafferty was his name. And he ran against Kuchel in the primary and beat them. And so, I was out of a job as a result of that, and then got picked up by another kind of Republican liberal by the name of Bob Finch, who became Secretary of HEW, and eventually appointed me as Director of the Office for Civil Rights. I was a believer in civil rights, had worked on civil rights laws with Kuchel, and ultimately ran into something called the “Southern Strategy” that Nixon had developed where he wanted to back off of silver rights enforcement, and I didn't, eventually lost my job as result of that, went to work for Mayor Lindsay in New York City, another liberal republican and then eventually made my way back to Monterey. But in the process, decided that I’d be better off becoming a democrat because republicans were beginning to have these divisions that were beginning to split the party. I was asked then whether I'd be interested in running for congress and I was in practice with my brother, practicing law, and you know, Sylvia and I had to kind of make a tough decision. We had had our family, we had three boys who were living in our--in the house in Carmel Valley, really loving it.

Rosenberg: And Congress, Washington DC is a very long way from—

Panetta: --Washington's a long way to go. You know, for the first time--we had moved a lot we'd moved a lot: in the army a number of times, we moved, you know, when we came back to California, and we were finally settled in our home, and it was a decision that, you know, we really had to think long and hard about. But, Sylvia was very supportive. And she got very much involved in the campaign, as she had with almost every other thing I've done in my life, which has been extremely important to my career. But more importantly, I think it was important for our relationship. So, she helped run the campaign, we made the decision I'd run. She ran the campaign, I was running against a Republican incumbent guy named Burt Talcott, and Talcott kind of been in office for about 12 or 13 years. But he had gotten to the point where he was starting to not come home and started to anger some of his own constituents. And it was almost the right time to take him on. But, he was a Republican incumbent. And so, it took a lot of work--in those days—I think about the amount of money we had to race. When I ran, I think was about $185,000 to run that campaign. And we raised it all locally, doing little fundraisers with people.

Rosenberg: It must have seemed like a fortune back then.

Panetta: Yeah, when Jimmy, my youngest son, recently ran for congress, and was elected, but you know, he had to raise almost over a million dollars to run, and congressional races these days, obviously, are in excess of a million dollars. We struggle, we raised the money, and eventually, you know, I won by about three or four percentage points, which was a great moment. And that night, after I had been declared a winner, I walked over to my father's little house and walked in, and he had been watching, and he embraced me. And I really felt very proud, because I knew how proud he felt that, here he was, an immigrant, not much money in his pocket, come to this country, worked hard. And now his son had just been elected to the Congress. It was a great moment.

Rosenberg: It's an extraordinary story. You tell a very charming story about the legendary Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, coming out to campaign for you and that he almost got your name right.

Panetta: That's right. Tip is a wonderful guy and obviously a democrat’s democrat from Boston. We asked him to do a fundraiser that we got a house for it, and he came up. He gave this kind of rip roaring speech about it and said, “I want all of you to support Leo Moneta.” And the problem was, there was a guy named Norman Mineta, who had been elected to the Congress two years before, and a lot of people did think that Mineta was Italian. And I always kidded him that the reason he got elected was because they thought he was Italian.

Rosenberg: He was a Japanese American--

Panetta: --who had actually been had gone to an intern camp, but he became mayor of San Jose, great success story. Tip used to always get us mixed up and everybody laughed at the fundraiser. And Tip realized what he had done. Tip was just one of these genuine, old Paul's from Massachusetts, who I think had a great heart. And he also had a good sense of what was right for the country, regardless of party.

Rosenberg: Well, you know, Leo Moneta is close enough to Leon Panetta, seemed to work.

Panetta: It did. I remember after I got elected, this was in the Carter administration. And the White House would call, they would ask if I would come to the White House to greet the Japanese Prime Minister. And I said, “I think you've got the wrong guy. I think you're trying to get Norm Mineta.” And Norm used to get calls from the White House when the Italian Prime Minister came, so we were always confused. Finally, Norm and I decided to put a team together, baseball team, and we said we played under the “sign of the rising pizza,” we had a great time playing around with each other's problem of being identified as either Italian or Japanese.

Rosenberg: I know you took the oath of office as an army officer, but what was it like to get sworn in as a new member of Congress in January of 1977?

Panetta: You know, I've got a great picture of that swearing in, right behind me here.

Rosenberg: Signed by Tip O'Neill.

Panetta: Signed by Tip O'Neill. And it was that that great moment of going over to the floor of the House of Representatives with all the new members. You raise your right hand and Tip administered the oath. It's one of those moments you never forget, because you think of the history of what gave, me particularly, as the son of immigrants, a chance to be elected to Congress, and to be able to serve in really the one of the great democratic institutions of our democracy. As a member of Congress, one of the things I always used to recall, was walking over from the Cannon building--I had my office in the Cannon building--at night, and looking up at the Capitol, which was all in lights, I always had that feeling of all that here I was serving in the pinnacle of our democracy, which is the House of Representatives, the house of the people. And I always recall that kind of special feeling that I had been blessed with a tremendous opportunity to be able to, be able to get elected and serve our democracy. I used to get the same feeling, by the way, when I walked in the Oval Office, having served the president, and I'd walk into the Oval Office, and I’d be there by myself and looking around and saying I am at the center of power, not just for this country but the world.

Rosenberg: I always had that feeling when I would walk into the FBI or the Department of Justice. First, “I can't believe that I'm here,” and “I hope that nobody figures out that I don't belong and throws me out.” I always felt like an imposter.

Panetta: I know, I always, I always had that, that sense that maybe at some point, they're going to say, you know, kid, you're in the wrong place. But, you know, it is a remarkable statement about kind of the heart and soul of what makes our democracy great.

Rosenberg: While you were serving in Congress, you took a great interest in the preservation of the California coast. I mean, you have a strong record as an environmentalist.

Panetta: Well, I you know, I was representing the central coast of California and Monterey. And here we've got the Big Sur coastline. We've got Cypress point and Pebble Beach. We've got Santa Cruz coastline, and it's a remarkable coastline. And I, you know, I've often said that--John Kennedy used to say that the ocean is the salt in our veins--and I really felt that way as, as a young person born and raised along this coast. So, I go back to Congress representing this, this beautiful coastline. And the first thing I run into is Secretary Watt, Secretary of Interior in the Reagan administration, who decides that he's going to put up for sale, all of our coastline for offshore drilling. And that really concerned me. I asked a republican congressman who represented the Mendocino coast, which is also attractive, and those are the days when you work with Republicans, I asked I asked him to meet with Watt, and I said to The Secretary, I said, “You know, I understand that there are areas, you know, that could be developed for offshore drilling, but I said, there are also national treasures, like a Yosemite or a Yellowstone, on our coastline that ought to be protected for the future.” And I said, “you know, my coastline is that way, the Mendocino coastlines that way.” And I'll never forget, he walked up to a picture in the congressman's office of the Mendocino coast. And he said, “that's a great location for an offshore drilling rig.” And I said, “Oh, my God, I'm in trouble.” So, I authored as a result of that meeting, I authored legislation to create a moratorium, it was put on the Appropriations Bill. And what I said was: no funds in this bill, it was the interior bill, will be allowed for proceeding with offshore drilling. And I got that enacted, it was a, it was bipartisan, and we had a lot of the coastal delegations were supportive. But then I thought and we actually got that moratorium passed, I think almost 20 years in a row. But, I was worried that, if we ever had a gas crisis, that I would, I would lose that legislation. So, I decided to go for more permanent protection, particularly for, for the Monterey coastline. So, I actually developed legislation to create a Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. And it established what at that time was the largest marine sanctuary in the United States. Our marine sanctuary stretches from the Fairlawn islands, all the way down to San Simeon. And I've always been proud of the fact that we have now protected that area from any kind of offshore threat

Rosenberg: Also, an extraordinary legacy.

Panetta: Yeah, it's great. It's one of my proud moments as a legislator.

Rosenberg: You served eight terms in Congress.

Panetta: I served eight terms was actually elected to my ninth term. It was then that President Clinton asked me to come into the administration,

Rosenberg: As the Director of Office of Management and Budget

Panetta: Director of the Office of Management and Budget. I had been in the Congress--had worked up to the chairman of the House Budget Committee--we had begun something thing that nobody talks about these days, which was the concern about growing deficits, and at that time, we had deficits that were approaching 300 billion, and going up to what we thought might be 600 billion, which we thought would really be devastating for the economy. It began in the Reagan administration, actually President Reagan called one of the first summits, really, where we came together to try to develop a deficit reduction package. And then, in the Bush administration, first, George Bush, we actually went out to Andrews Air Force Base, Republicans and Democrats and representatives from the administration, to work out a budget deal that involved $500 billion in deficit reduction. 250 billion out of largely entitlement program, and 250 billion out of revenue, tax increases. Tough package, but we worked it out and got it passed. It was a tough vote. But, you know, to the credit of President Bush, who had to move his lips, you know, from what he had campaigned on, which was, you know, read my lips, no new taxes, he made a tough decision. And I've often told him that he made the right decision. And it was tough,

Rosenberg: and it may have cost him his reelection.

Panetta: It might very well have been one of the reasons you know, it cost him this election. But you know, it's, I always say that true leaders have to take risks of leadership and do the right thing. If they think it's the right thing for the country, they need to do it, it might very well cost them an election, but they can always live with the satisfaction of knowing they did the right thing. Anyway, I was, I was proud of having worked on that package. And I think it was, it was the reason that Bill Clinton, who had, had also run against Ross Perot in that race, and Perot had identified the deficit as a biggest issue. And Bill Clinton, to his credit, knew that he would have to do additional steps to reduce the deficit. And I think that was the reason he asked me to become director of OMB.

Rosenberg: Now, you also worked for President Clinton as his Chief of Staff.

Panetta: I'd been in the office of director of OMB. We passed the Clinton budget, which was tough, another 500 billion in deficit reduction, passed Reconciliation, which is the bill to implement that, which means raising taxes and getting the savings from a number of programs. But, we got it done, it was tough. I think we passed it by one vote in the House, and the vice presidents vote in the Senate, I was doing the appropriations bills. And I really felt very good about what I was able to accomplish, obviously, for the president, but more importantly, for the country. I think it was Al Gore who was a classmate of mine when I got elected to Congress, and he was vice president, came up to me and said something like, you know, Leon, I think the President is thinking about having you as chief of staff. I said, “look, I, you know, I, I really enjoy the job of OMB director. And I think I'm doing a good job for the administration on budget and one on the Appropriations.” And besides that, very frankly, the White House was in chaos. There was very little organization, a lot of people would be going to meetings, there was no discipline, really, within the White House. And I thought, “man, the last thing I need is to have to take control of that place. So--“

Rosenberg: Somebody needed to.

Panetta: I said, “I'm better off as director of OMB.” Well, the next thing I knew, Al said that the President wanted to see me up at Camp David. So, I went up to the vice president's house to pick up the helicopter there, and we flew up to Camp David, and I walked into the presidential cabin there, and there was President Clinton and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Tipper Gore, and myself. And I knew that I was being put into a corner at that point.

Rosenberg: You were outnumbered,

Panetta: I was totally outnumbered. The president asked me if I would become chief of staff. And I said the same thing. I said, “you know, Mr. President, I really think I'm serving you in a very important role as Director of OMB. We've just passed the budget, we've just passed Reconciliation. You know, we're passing all the Appropriations bills on time,” which is something that had never happened for a long time. And I said, “I think I'm really important that the budget is going to be your legacy. And I think it will be, you know, I think I can help protect that,” and I never forgot Clinton’s words he said, “Leon, that you know, you can be the most famous Director of OMB in the history of the country. But if the White House is falling apart, nobody will remember you.” So, I said, “all right, Mr. President,” you know, I went ahead and of course, if the president asked you to do something, I feel obligated to do it, and I did.

Rosenberg: A tough job?

Panetta: Tough job, I had conditions. Matter of fact, after I came down from Camp David, I went to see Mack McLarty, who was my predecessor as Chief of Staff. He knew what was going on. I said, “Mack, I need to look at an organization chart for the White House.” And he said, “you know, Leon, I don't believe I've ever seen one of those.” And I thought, Man, I really am screwed.

Rosenberg: There's the problem.

Panetta: And so, I almost had to rely a great deal on my army experience because it was about establishing a chain of command who would report to who.

Rosenberg: Process.

Panetta: Yeah, a process of discipline and supervision on the various staff members. In the Clinton administration, there were a lot of people who carried this title of consult to the President, which meant that they could go to all the meetings talk, but never have any responsibility for doing anything. And so, I got rid of all the consoles to the president and establish, you know, a clear chain of command. I had two deputy chiefs of staff, one for personnel, one for scheduling, and people under them that they would be responsible for, decided to try to control access to the Oval Office.

Rosenberg: Did that work?

Panetta: It did because Bill Clinton recognize that it had to be done. As a matter of fact, John Kelly, when he became chief of staff to President Trump, called me and said, “What do I need to do?”

Rosenberg: And John Kelly had worked for you directly.

Panetta: He It worked for me as a military aide when I was Secretary of Defense. I said, “John,” I said, you know, “you're a Marine, you need to have a strong chain of command, you need to have discipline, you need to control access to the White House, you need to establish systems for policy development, so that the President is well served by those that are experts and know the issues, and present those options to the President.” The biggest problem you have is the president I was working for, knew that he had to be disciplined. He was smart enough to know that he was not going to get reelected if the White House was in chaos. And so, he was willing to go along with disciplining, I said, “you're working for somebody who I'm not sure, really understands what discipline is all about.” He said, “I know. But I really think I can try to apply that same kind of framework.” It was really interesting because in many ways, I think John was dealing with some of the same chaos I had to deal with this Chief of Staff.

Rosenberg: I would imagine every White House has some degree of chaos and some degree of discipline. It's just the question of the ratio.

Panetta: You're absolutely right. It's, it is a huge responsibility to suddenly walk into the Oval Office and realize the dimensions of what you're now responsible for. And even as somebody who's worked there, I can't imagine the sense of walking into that Oval Office and realizing that now, a lot of what's happening in this country and in the world, is going to be on your shoulders. And it is, and the responsibility now of pulling together a team of people who you can trust, who are good advisors, who understand the issues you're dealing with, so that you're presented with the best advice possible. Because these are always complicated, tough issues that you're dealing with.

Rosenberg: And you always want to give the president options.

Panetta: That was my approach.

Rosenberg: Right, any President.

Panetta: I think it's really important that the policymaking process does a good job of analyzing the particular issue or crisis you're dealing with, and then presents a set of options to the President, as to what steps ought to be taken. You know, sometimes there's consensus, sometimes there's not. But, I think the ability to give the President of the United States a set of options, gives the president the room that is needed in order to be able to evaluate: what do I have to do that's in the interest of the country? So, you really do need to develop that process, you need to have good people in the cabinet, who are running the departments and agencies, and then under them, good deputies and responsible people who are also are dedicated to their jobs. The one thing you learn very fast as president is that, you know, you can want all kinds of things to happen, but it's not going to happen unless you have good people in those jobs who are willing to make it happen for you. And being able to delegate authority, being able to energize that team to feel like they're part of this broader team, is really one of the great challenges of any president going into the Oval Office.

Rosenberg: I know when you left the Clinton White House at the end of President Clinton's second term, and returned to Monterey, it was with the plan of staying here establishing the Panetta Institute, your beloved California had called you home, but President Obama and the nation had a different plan.

Panetta: Yeah, you know, I'm often asked by young people, “how do I improve my career opportunities when I go back to Washington?” I have a very standard response, which is, you know, the most important thing is to do the very best in the job that you're in, to make damn sure that you've dedicated yourself to getting that job accomplished. Because if you start focusing on the next step up the ladder, what happens is that almost automatically you begin to cut corners,

Rosenberg: You get distracted,

Panetta: You get distracted, you're always trying to think about what could jeopardize your position, your political position, and you just are not committed to really getting the job done. And if you do the job and you do it right, and I've always felt that, you know, I, I always thought it was important to do well in the job you're in, even if it's risky, even if it means you could lose your job by virtue of doing the right thing, but do that. If you do that, other opportunities will come along. And in many ways, that's been the story of my life, is that, you know, I, I always decided that, particularly in political jobs, that those ought not to be careers, they ought, they ought to be limited. Because if you're going to do it, right, and you're going to make some tough decisions, you're going to get people angry at you. It's always better to leave those positions on a high, where you've accomplished something and you've done well, but it's not like you're just trying to hang on for the sake of hanging on

Rosenberg: No, I think there's a shelf life to those jobs. They're hard to do, they're exhausting if you do them, right. And by the way, it's often good to have someone else come in and kick the tires.

Panetta: Exactly. It's no one is absolutely essential to any job. The fact is other people can come in. And it's good to have this breath of fresh air that comes in and looks at the job.

Rosenberg: But that's in part why President Obama wanted you to run the CIA. You didn't have a background in the intelligence community.

Panetta: That’s right. I suddenly--I get this call from Rahm Emanuel, who had worked for me as one of my aides when I was in the Clinton White House.

Rosenberg: And he was now the--President Obama's Chief of Staff.

Panetta: He had been designated Chief of Staff. And Rahm called and said, “the President is thinking about you as the Director of the CIA.” I said, “Rahm,” I said, “are you sure you got the right guy?” Because I'd been doing budget work and I'd been working on ocean issues—

Rosenberg: Were they looking for Norm Mineta?

Panetta: That's what I thought. I thought maybe you're looking for Norm Mineta. He said, “no,” he says, “I think the President really wants and wants you to do it.” And I remember Sylvia and I were visiting our son in Minneapolis, he's a cardiologist in Minneapolis. We went to I think was a playoff game for the Vikings. We were at the game and I got a call on my, my cell phone that--I think was from Sylvia--that said that the President Elect Obama wanted to talk to me. After the game, went back to Carmelo’s home and made the call to the President. And the President said, “I'd like you to become a Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.” And I said, I said, “Mr. President,” I said, you know, “I'm honored that you would ask me, but as you know, I spent my life doing a lot of budget work and doing other things. I mean, I, I was an intelligence officer in the army and I obviously did intelligence when I was Chief of Staff for the president,” but I said, “you know, I'm not quite sure whether it's a good fit,” he said, “well, the reason I'm selecting you, Leon, is because I think you can restore trust of the CIA,” which had been badly damaged because of the politics of the time. And he said, “I really think that you would be able to do that. And besides that, I think it's--because we are in a war with terrorists--I think you would be a strong leader and leading the effort to go after terrorists and particularly to go after bin Laden.”

Rosenberg: The CIA, as you referenced, was struggling with a number of issues from policies on renditions, interrogation, and miscalculations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Panetta: Exactly.

Rosenberg: What did you find at the CIA when you got there? What was the morale like?

Panetta: I obviously headed up OMB I headed up to the White House staff. I kind of knew, you know, the challenges of taking on those kinds of responsibilities. You know, the CIA always had a mystique about it because you know, here it is, located out in Virginia, you know, off the parkway.

Rosenberg: Beautiful campus.

Panetta: It’s a great campus. There's all kinds of talk about just exactly what the hell is the CIA doing? And where is this area Nevada, where they're all these vehicles from outer space?

Rosenberg: It should be, we should point out that You're kidding, right?

Panetta: Absolutely. Yeah. No, I'm always asked the question. I had a great person who became my chief of staff, Jeremy Bash.

Rosenberg: Who we had as a guest on this podcast.

Panetta: Yeah, yeah. I'm really glad that you did that because Jeremy has a great story as well. But Jeremy had been selected by the Obama administration, to head up the intelligence transitions. And he was helping me at CIA and Jeremy set up several meetings with the heads of the different areas at CIA. There's an analytical, somebody in charge of analysis at the time, somebody in charge of operations, somebody in charge of technology, somebody in charge of support systems. I had the chance to sit down with all of them. And these were not Republicans or Democrats--they were really people who are dedicated to their job.

Rosenberg: I'm so glad you said that because that's precisely what I found at the FBI and the Justice Department that people are. They don't take sides. It's just like--they're not partisans. They just try and do their job as best they can,

Panetta: And it was, it was so encouraging to have these people who knew their stuff that dedicated their lives, to security of the country, you know, just to talk with them and walk through the various threats that the country was facing from terrorists and others around the world. And to have a sense of confidence that, you know, this is a team of people who really care about what's happening. I really felt that--and Jeremy and I made the decision early on, that we're not going to walk into the CIA and kind of clean house, and bring all kinds of new people--that the most important thing we could do was to have him and I walk into the CIA headquarters, just the two of us, and establish our relationship with the professionals who were there.

Rosenberg: And learn and listen.

Panetta: Learn, listen, look at people, how are they doing in the job? Are they performing? Some people that you have to move on, but there are a lot of people who are doing their job, right, and that that was encouraging.

Rosenberg: I think you wrote in your book that at your first meeting, you told those assembled in your conference room that you're going to work hard, have fun, and become friends.

Panetta: That's right. And that one of the things I always believed, and it went back to my other jobs, I said, “I will be honest with you, but I expect you to be honest with me. And if I find that you're not honest with me, then you're not going to be around very long.”

Rosenberg: You had an interesting issue early on. We had mentioned that one of the matters that landed on your desk was President Obama's resolve to release interrogation memos, memoranda from the apartment of justice that permitted the CIA to do enhanced interrogations overseas, and that many of the men and women in the CIA, the CIA you were now running were adamantly opposed to the president releasing that. It's an interesting story about policy and process.

Panetta: Yeah, it is. And it was actually one of the first issues I had to deal with. The challenge really becomes one of whether or not you're going to be a leader of the people, you know, that are responsible to you, or whether you're just going do what you think is necessary to kind of protect your own rear end. And as a leader of the CIA, these were people who, as I said, are really dedicated to doing their job. And 9/11 was a tragic event for this country--to, to be attacked in the way we were. And to not know, you know, where the next attack might be. And I always thought, you know, if I was in that position at that time, that you'd almost want to do everything necessary to make sure that you were protecting the country.

Rosenberg: That had never happened again.

Panetta: Yeah, and that it would never happen. Again, I think that those who worked at the CIA, were dedicated to doing everything they could to try and to make sure they got good intelligence to try to protect the country from another devastating attack. And they were doing their job and the reality was that the Justice Department had pretty much backed up some of the steps that had been recommended. And then, everybody there felt that what they were doing was in accordance with the law. And I understand why the president, President Obama changed that approach, I think he was right to do it. There were some of the tactics that I think probably violated our basic values in terms of how we treat other individuals. But at the same time, I also understood why people were doing that, and to now suddenly put those people in jeopardy, so that what they did might be questioned, and ultimately, might cost them their job, concerned me. I made the decision I was going to back them up in that effort and, you know, went to the president and said, you know, “Mr. President, we need to move on. We've changed the way we do enhanced interrogation, there's no reason now, why we should try to penalize people who were doing what the Justice Department said was right at the time, they were following orders and doing the right thing, and really cared about the country, I just think this really sends a bad signal.” To the President's credit, he allowed me to bring a group of other members of the CIA, they're the senior members who had been involved,

Rosenberg: President Obama heard them out.

Panetta: And he heard them out in the Oval Office. And they spoke from their heart. And I really appreciate the president listening to them. And I think it was for that reason that he was careful about, you know, the decisions he ultimately made, even though we didn't agree with a lot of those decisions to, to go ahead and make some of this public. In the end, I think the President really did make clear to the people who were working at CIA that he really did care about them and the mission they were performing.

Rosenberg: I think, though he ruled against the position you were advocating, and released those memoranda, he did make it clear that any CIA personnel who relied on Department of Justice, legal advice in good faith, would not be subject to prosecute.

Panetta: Exactly, exactly. And I think that was an important signal to send to people.

Rosenberg: When Jeremy Bash, your former Chief of Staff was on the show, he talked about a tragic event that took place during your tenure as CIA director, in December of 2009, and post Afghanistan.

Panetta: Yeah, yeah. It really became a very pivotal event. What had happened was one of our allied intelligence partners indicated that they had a possible agent. It located an individual who might be able to lead us, if not to bin Laden, to the second in command, Zawahiri, I think was his name.

Rosenberg: Right.

Panetta: It was one of these kinds of unique opportunities to kind of see if we could get a break, frankly, on the location of bin Laden. So, we decided that we had to, obviously talk to this agent to vet that individual to make sure that he was not a double agent. And so, we set up a meeting with him at a place called Host Afghanistan--it's in the mountains near the Pakistani border. At first, the agent didn't want to come out of Pakistan. And it took a while when we finally convinced him to come to this meeting at Host. When we found he was coming, the people there were obviously very excited, couldn't wait to greet him. He was actually able to get through the checkpoints without being searched, which was a mistake. And as his vehicle pulled up to where the intelligence officers were located, they kind of moved out and began to surround his car. And the security people were very nervous, to their credit. And he got out on the other side of the vehicle. They had their weapons drawn and “take your hands out of your robe,” he had his hands in his robe. And he then set off a suicide vest. That was--it was devastating, very powerful. And the explosion killed, I think, seven officers and wounded a number of others. You know, he turned out obviously to be a double agent at the time, and it was a devastating blow--it was--I was back in Monterey, or actually in my home in Carmel Valley, it was over the Christmas holidays when I got word that it happened, and I spent the next few months going to funerals and, you know, really sharing with the families who, you know, were the loving partners of these officers. And I'll never forget, every one of those funerals of families came up to me and said, “you know, we're glad you're here, but we want to make one thing clear: that you've got to continue to do the work that our loved one died for,” and that was essentially to keep going after bin Laden.

Rosenberg: You described all the families as remarkably stoic.

Panetta: They were very stoic and that--there was a moment that I will never forget of going to a funeral of one of the members up in Massachusetts. We were driving in the motorcade going to the cemetery, and people had lined up along the whole route with American flags. I was thinking, you know, here, here's somebody who largely operates undercover, whose work is not really known to most of the people in this country.

Rosenberg: And cannot be.

Panetta: It cannot be. And yet, here are these American families who know that this person had given his life for the cause of this country. And, you know, it was, it was just such a reassuring moment to know that we are not alone, that the fact is, this country is there, you know, supporting the CIA and supporting those who put their lives on the line for this country. And as a result of those moments, I remember, you know, going back to the CIA, and people at the CIA had the same feeling that because of what happened at Host, they were going to do it everything they could to make sure that we would ultimately, not only find whoever was involved and responsible for that suicide bombing, but that we would also do everything necessary to find bin Laden.

Rosenberg: You listed the names of the men and women who died that day in your book: Harold Brown Jr, age 37, Elizabeth Hansen, age 30, Darren Labonte, age 35, Jennifer Lynn Matthews, age 45, Dane Clark Paresi, 46 Scott Michael Roberson, age 39, and Jeremy Wise, age 35.

Panetta: You know, those individuals are now remembered by stars on the wall at the CIA as you enter the lobby of the CIA. On the right-hand side is a wall of stars that represent every one of those individuals who gave their life in line of duty at the CIA

Rosenberg: And even to this day, there are some stars with no name.

Panetta: Exactly a lot of them, we could never reveal their real name. They operate in a covert basis. And it's a--it's a remarkable wall because not only does it reflect their sacrifice that they gave their life, but it's also the work they had to do on behalf of this country, in surrendering their own identity in order to make sure they could try to gather the kind of intelligence we needed,

Rosenberg: Surrender their own identity, even in death.

Panetta: Exactly.

Rosenberg: At some point, President Obama asked you to take yet another job, an extraordinary job, as Secretary of Defense of the United States. Was that a surprise?

Panetta: Yeah, it was a little, it was a little bit of surprise. I mean, I, again, you know, going back to what I said about always knowing when to get the hell out of a job in Washington, and always leaving on a high--you know, after we had done the bin Laden raid and gotten bin Laden, and it was such a successful mission, kind of a great accomplishment for the intelligence community and for the Special Forces community.

Rosenberg: In fact, one of the guests on the podcast, Admiral Bill Mcraven, spoke about that raid.

Panetta: Yeah, no, Bill. Bill was the one who was head of Special Forces. And he was the one I had asked to actually prepare the operations to go after this compound, where we thought bin Laden might be located. You know, to, to have that happen and happen successfully, was just a very proud moment. And I really thought that it was a good time for me, as CIA Director, to probably move on, and go back to California.

Rosenberg: You keep trying to go back.

Panetta: Keep trying. And the president, you know, asked me if I would if I would become Secretary of Defense. And I said, well, I said, “Mr. President, one way or another, I want to get back to California, get back to our institute in my home, and so I'm not sure that I'm going to, you know, that I would serve beyond four years as Secretary.” He says, “that's okay. How whatever time you can serve as Secretary of Defense, I'd like to have you do it.” So again, a president asked me to take on a new responsibility. And, you know, I decided to do it. And I've never regretted that decision either. Because, as Secretary of Defense again, you’re working with people who are truly dedicated to protecting our country. It made me proud of those in uniform, in particular, who are willing to fight and die to protect our country.

Rosenberg: It's possible that our listeners heard a faint scratching at the door while we were in your office. I presume those of your dogs

Panetta: They are. We've got right outside the door right now we've got our dog, Bubba, who's a golden retriever and we are babysitting for Jimmy’s dog, my youngest son's dog, his name is Copper, and he's a Labradoodle. But we've always been a dog family and I had a great dog before Bubba, Bubba is great dog but I had a great dog named Bravo, who was another golden retriever. I actually used to bring Bravo. back with me to Washington to be with me when I was drinking The CIA and also Secretary of Defense. And you can't imagine bringing a golden into the CIA with all of these straight shooters, who, you know, you're in a conference and I, I remember Bravo, who would go up to some of these, these older CIA officers, and we'd be talking and he, he pushed their hand off of the chair, so that they would finally scratch his head.

Rosenberg: It’s precisely what Bubba did to me today.

Panetta: That's right. And, in fact, finally they, you know, they finally petted him. And they got, they all got used to him. And we went through all of these conferences on the bin Laden raid, and I've often said, “Bravo was there for all of those conferences and he never leaked a word. You can trust Bravo.” And Bravo, by the way, is in my portrait at the CIA. And he is also in my portrait as Secretary of Defense, but the only the only secretary, the only director to have a dog in the same picture. And it's because I really felt that he was very much a part of my team in both jobs.

Rosenberg: The size of the Department of Defense in 2011. When you became secretary, as you write, “Department of Defense employed more than 2 million servicemen and women, another 800,000 civilians, an additional 1.1 million men and women in the National Guard and Reserves, yet another 2 million retirees, that it owns more real estate than any organization on Earth, it has hundreds of bases around the globe, and at the Pentagon alone, headquarters, roughly 23,000 people who worked in that building on a daily basis.” That's big.

Panetta: It's huge. It's huge. I, I've often said going from the CIA to, to the Department of Defense was like going from the corner hardware store to one of these big, you know, hardware outlets.

Rosenberg: Big box stores. How do you get your arms around an enterprise that large?

Panetta: I think in many ways, you take the formula that I used at OMB in the White House, and the CIA, and applied it to Department of Defense, which is that it is critical to establish a team, a sense of team among the leadership there, because in the end, they're going to be responsible for getting the job done, accomplishing the mission. So, what I did was, as I did at these other jobs, established a staff meeting at the highest levels every day.

Rosenberg: Would that be among your joint chiefs?

Panetta: That's what I would do. What I did in that department defense, which was something by the way that had not ordinarily been done, I did a staff meeting each morning with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, usually the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, my civilian heads of the various areas of responsibility, the policy heads, and, you know, the general console, the top leadership, really at the DOD. And we would meet at nine o'clock in the morning around a big conference table, and I would walk through, you know, what are the, the primary missions we're looking at, at that moment, what are we working on in terms of legislation up on Capitol Hill, what's happening with the budget, what's happening in other areas, I would ask each of them to kind of report from their different areas. And the purpose of that is to build the sense of team so that everybody knows what's happening, particularly with the Secretary and particularly with the White House. I mean, I would basically present what issues we're dealing with, with regards to the White House, as well. So, in being honest with the team, and in listening to them, I think you really do build a sense of loyalty. So that, you know, they know that you're telling them the truth, you're not pulling any punches. And you're asking for their help. You're, you know, obviously you have to be disciplined. If there are things that have to be done, you impress upon them the importance of getting the job done, and what, you know, what, what, what needs to be accomplished. And I really think, to develop a successful leadership model, it really requires three or four key things: one is establishing a set of goals that you want to achieve, never walk into a job just to move stuff from the inbox to the outbox. What are the goals you want to achieve? And establish those schools. Secondly, make sure that everybody shares those goals and understands why it's important to accomplish them, develop a strategy for accomplishing those goals, and what barriers we may run into. And then fourthly, again, be honest with yourself as to what you can do and what you can't do, but also be honest with others. I think those are vital ingredients to being able to pull a huge department or agency together so that you are focused on what you have to accomplish.

Rosenberg: And as with the CIA, the Department of Defense is a hierarchical organization. Folks are used to getting and giving orders and you're the boss. So, they try very hard to comply, I imagine, but It's unwieldy.

Panetta: Yeah, no, it's a, it is a big organization. There's a lot of bureaucracy involved. There's a lot of people who operate in stovepipes, with one kind or another.

Rosenberg: And each of your services, have their own cultures and their organizations.

Panetta: Oh, we had what, you know, what are now known as the joint commands, which I think is a real step in the right direction.

Rosenberg: Can you explain that?

Panetta: Yeah, joint command, the combatant commands are really a use of bring the various services together, so that the Air Force, the Marines, the Army, the Navy, are working together in a combatant command, so that that command represents the best of all the services, but more importantly, they're all working together.

Rosenberg: So, for instance, Southern Command, it's a geographic responsibility exactly, but your services are there together, working on common problems.

Panetta: Right, so if you have you have a Southern Command, we have a European command, we have a combatant command, we have an AFRICOM. So, we have different areas of the world that have combatant commands, and they represent a combination of all of our services, so that they can provide the air support, the Navy support, the ground support the troops on the ground, Special Forces, all of them are operating. And interestingly enough, you could have an admiral as head of one combatant command, you could have a marine general head of another combatant command, you can have an Army general head of another command. It really does make the forces work together. And it's very important--this stove piping that I talked about, can really be harmful if services are not reaching out, and really sharing information about the kind of challenges that they have to face.

Rosenberg: I was really struck by something you wrote in your book, Worthy Fights, which I read and loved, by the way, you said that every week as the Secretary of Defense, you spent quiet hours alone, sort of, reading and contemplating letters that you had to send to families who lost loved ones.

Panetta: It was, without question, the toughest job I had, which is, you know, I sit in the, the office there with the Secretary and pull out my stationery, and I'd have a list of those who had been killed in combat. And I would write notes to their family. And to just take the time to, in your own handwriting, address these families, and how proud they should be, you know, with regards to their loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country. As a matter of fact, I'll never forget one moment where I was writing one of those notes. And it was to a Mrs. Weiss, and I was writing about the loss of her son.

Rosenberg: Sergeant First Class Benjamin Wise

Panetta: Right, Benjamin Wise. And I thought, Oh, my God. I had written a note to this mother, when I was director of the CIA, I was writing to the mother and suddenly realized that I'd written to her as director of the CIA, because her son was one of those who had been killed.

Rosenberg: Jeremy, Jeremy wise.

Panetta: Jeremy.

Rosenberg: That's one of the seven names that I had read earlier.

Panetta: And so now, I was writing another note because she lost another son, called Ben and I, I often thought that here's a family that had made the ultimate sacrifice: two sons who had given their life for the country. I mean, I think, you know, we all remember, you know, the scene of the brothers in the movie of Saving Private Ryan, where, you know, the brothers had been killed and they were trying to save one of the brothers. And here, I was dealing with the loss of two sons, and I think, what greater sacrifice can a family make, then to, to give two of their sons to this country in order to try to protect it?

Rosenberg: I was wondering if you might read the handwritten note that you wrote to Mrs. Wise

Panetta: “I am so very lost in my emotion of losing another son of yours to combat. As the father of three sons, I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling. And yet, I know that like Jeremy, Ben was doing what he wanted to fight for all of us. He is a true American hero, and patriot. God bless him and you.”

Rosenberg: Beautiful words. I also feel that I'm right now in the presence of a true American hero and patriot. It is such an honor to sit down with you, Leon Panetta, somebody who served as a congressman for 16 years as the head of the Office of Management and Budget, as President Clinton's chief of staff in the White House, as the director of the CIA, and as the Secretary of Defense. It's quite a Quite a legacy.

Panetta: Well, I, I thank you, and thank you for your service. I really believe deeply in service to country because I think our democracy is strong because there are people who are willing to give back to the country, and are willing to do things to try to make sure that we give our children a better life. You know, I talked about my father as an immigrant, and I used to ask him why he came all of that distance to this country. And I never forgot his response, which was, “because your mother and I believe we could give our children a better life in this country.”

Rosenberg: And they did.

Panetta: And I think they did. And I've had the--that's the American dream. It really is the American dream, and I've had a chance to live that kind of American dream, and I'm really proud of having done that.

Rosenberg: Well, maybe you'll get called back to service one more time.

Panetta: I don't know, California is a great place to live right now.

Rosenberg: It's a great place to be. Thank you so much for your time.

Panetta: Thanks very much.

Rosenberg: Thanks to Leon Panetta, his wife, Sylvia, and the wonderful folks at the Panetta Institute on the campus of Cal State University, Monterey Bay for hosting our podcast. Thanks too, to his dog Bubba, and his dog in law, Copper, for being so patient and quiet for almost all of our interview. Leon is one of the most distinguished and accomplished public servants in American history, with more important positions on his resume than one could ever imagine: Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, CIA Director, and Secretary of Defense, among others. He is also the author of book, Worthy Fights. This is The Oath, with Chuck Rosenberg, thank you so very much for listening. If you liked this episode, please let us know by leaving a 5-star rating on whatever app you use for listening. And ask you friends to subscribe. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, and on every major listening app, as well as Oath. If you are listening on a smartphone, swipe or tap over the cover art of the podcast. You will find our episode notes, including some details you might have missed. If you have any thoughtful criticism, feedback, or questions about this episode or others, please email us at, that’s all one word,, and though I cannot respond to every email, please know that I read each one, and appreciate it. The Oath is a production of NBC news and MSNBC. This podcast was produced by FannieCo, with Fannie Cohen, Nic Bannon, and Rob Hebert. They’re a wonderful team.