Panetta pushes civic engagement, appeals to press

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta fields questions from UCLA public policy lecturer Jim Newton at Loews Santa Monica Beach on May 19, 2017. (Austin Dave/The Signal)

SANTA MONICA — Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA director who has been an adviser to presidents for decades, advises young people who have become more attentive to government and politics since the November election to stay engaged. 

Panetta, who became chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy when he retired from his Defense post in 2013, said although a study for the institute showed the majority of college students are dissatisfied with political leaders these same people however say they are more engaged about issues.

That is a good trend, he said, in an interview Friday after speaking to the annual conference of the California Newspaper Publishers Association where he gave his take on the national scene.

He bemoaned the contentious climate in Washington which he said is due to a lack of leadership by many in the nation’s capital.

“I’ve seen Washington at its worst and Washington at its best. The good thing is that I’ve seen Washington work,” Panetta said.

He believes the climate is the worst he’s ever seen.

Leon Panetta fields questions from UCLA public policy lecturer Jim Newton at the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association conference at the Loews hotel on the Santa Monica Beach on May 19, 2017. Austin Dave/The Signal

“Both parties are in their trenches. They both are out to kill each other and the country pays the price,” he said.

He said the dysfunction is due to redistricting which has resulted in many safe Congressional seats across the country, too much money in politics and the national media “looking for sound bites.”

“As a result of that, leadership is not willing to take risks,” he said.

He called on the press to be fair and objective despite being under attack by President Trump. He added that the country needs local newspapers that are balanced and that they are “critical to our democracy.”

Panetta, who was also White House chief of staff for President Clinton, was sharply critical of Trump’s staff and said the administration appeared chaotic.

He said he respects many of the people on the president’s national security team but said his domestic team was not advising him properly resulting in such incidents as Trump recently revealing classified information to Russian diplomats as well as the president meeting with former FBI Director James Comey. He said a president should not meet with an FBI director. They are considered to be independent.

“Who the hell is briefing the president of the United States?” Panetta said.

Despite criticizing the climate in Washington, Panetta ended on an optimistic note.

“I have tremendous trust in the judgment and common sense of the American people,” he said.

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