Why is the left attacking Leon Panetta's patriotism?

J. Christian Adams, Larry Korb debate


This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," October 9, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Serious new reaction tonight as some on the left go on the attack, hammering former secretary of Defense and former CIA chief Leon Panetta for his critical tell-all memoir about his time in the Obama White House -- well, administration.

Here are some recent headlines. In Politico, "Panetta is trying to rewrite history." The Daily Beast, "Leon Panetta is what's wrong with D.C." The Washington Post, "Obama's not the first former boss Leon Panetta blistered in a memoir." And a former Obama spokesman, you know, Bill Burton, now calling Mr. Panetta "sad, dishonorable, small and petty."

But is this the same way the left reacted to the scathing tell-all books about Republican presidents?

J. Christian Adams is a former Justice Department attorney and legal editor of PJ Media.

So, just to start with Mr. Burton, he thinks it's sad and dishonorable and petty. But when Scott McClellan came out with a book about what happened with the Iraq war and George W. Bush, Bill Burton was one of the first to try to use it in the presidential race between then-Senator Obama and John McCain, saying, "On the day after the former White House press secretary" -- meaning McClellan -- "conceded that the Bush administration used deception and propaganda to take us to war," and he took a shot at McCain. He doesn't seem to think that it's fair game now.

J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: Well, this is how it works, Megyn. The White House should be listening to Leon Panetta, not attacking him. And that's because we see this pattern. Whenever a Republican has a traitor like Scott McClellan or David Iglesias who used to be at the Justice Department, they are raised to hero status, Megyn. They're feted in the media. People like Dana Milbank at the Washington Post do glowing stories about these people.

But whenever it's a Democrat like Leon Panetta who tells the truth about the foreign policy failure in this White House, Dana Milbank calls them stunningly disloyal. Suddenly, the truth is not as important.

It shows you the partisan nature of how people in Washington confront the truth. Sometimes Republicans are elevated to a legendary status for turning on President Bush.

KELLY: And yet I think you yourself know something about what they will do to you if you dare cross this administration. Because you did work for the Department of Justice under Eric Holder, under president Obama, and when you quit on principle over the way they were handling a case, they came after you both barrels blazing.

ADAMS: It was a lot of fun, but I'll tell you Marc Thiessen is right. There's a culture of deception. They lied about me. They lied about Gerald Walpin. They lie and they lie and they lie because for a long time, the media wasn't holding them to account. People like Dana Milbank were doing their bidding. But the American public, you know, is catching up. The Fox News poll, over 80 percent of the people in this country think that Obama lies.

KELLY: What do you make of the point that they're making, though? Because even Dana Perino came out on our show earlier this week and said, "I don't agree with these administration officials writing books while their former boss is still in office." Apart from the partisanship, do they have a point?

ADAMS: They don't. Look, I respectfully disagree with Dana Perino. We're in a constitutional republic where truth matters, where transparency in government is an important principle. And when you're messing up foreign policy as badly as this administration is, it is valuable to the American government, to the American people for someone like Leon Panetta to say what he said. This is not some monarchy where we hide the ball and protect the king. This is democratic republic where it should matter to people in real-time, not 10 years later.

KELLY: An interesting point.

ADAMS: What this administration's doing.

KELLY: J. Christian Adams, good to see you, sir.

ADAMS: Thank you, Megyn.

KELLY: Joining us for the other side, Larry Korb, who is a former assistant secretary of Defense and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Larry, first let me ask you about Chris' last point there, which is if ever there's a time, now is it while the battle is ongoing and the strategy can be changed.

LARRY KORB, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think if Leon felt the way that he said, he should have resigned, so we could have had the debate a while ago. He complains about us getting out of Iraq in 2011.


KELLY: OK. But what about the answer of better late than never?

KORB: Well, again, I would say if he looked at some of the people I admire, Republican secretaries of defense like Melvin Laird and even Don Rumsfeld, they waited until their boss was out of office. Scott McClellan was --


KELLY: I know. But you're not answering my question which is Chris Adams was just saying he should be raising it now because Leon Panetta is expressing his fright in this memoir about the direction the president's taking the country in particular in the Middle East in this war.

KORB: Well, first of all, he's being disingenuous. He didn't take those positions when he was in government. For example, when Senator McCain asked him about getting out of Iraq in 2011, he said no, we couldn't stay. When he was on the Iraq study group, he wanted to get out completely even earlier. I mean, that's what we're talking about.

KELLY: He says he advised the president to leave behind a residual force.

KORB: Well, he said, but then he went and testified and said that it isn't. And then you get into the account of actual thing about whether in fact that would have made a difference. For example, we had 100,000 troops there, we told Maliki not to appoint this general of his- --


KELLY: All right. You can argue that. This is more about the principle of what he's done and whether these attacks on him are fair. I mentioned Bill Burton, who is, you know, dripping with hypocrisy on this. So is the vice president. The vice president came out and said I don't like it when the administration officials write books. "Let the guy get out of office, would you?" But he was another one who was all too happy when Scott McClellan wrote that book to come out and bam, bam, bam, use it. He had no problem with the betrayal when it was on the Republican side.

KORB: Well, wait a second, I didn't appreciate Scott McClellan writing it. That's different. I think if a president gives you Republican or Democrat the honor of serving in a very high position, you owe it to him to wait until he leaves. And I've said that all along. When I left government, somebody offered me $25,000 to write a tell-all book because I had notes of every meeting I went to. I said, "I'm not doing that." You don't do that.

And again, I'd be happy -- I can tell you when Leon Panetta and I were on "The Phil Donahue Show" back in the 80s, he was beating on Reagan for large defense budgets and then gets to the Pentagon and takes a different position. I think, you know, that the Daily Beast article, they don't like the Obama administration. They're not big supporters. But I think they talked about that's what's wrong with Washington. You feel so strongly, resign. That would have been the debate in 2011.

KELLY: I think the lesson we learned is really don't hire Leon Panetta.


KELLY: I'm just kidding.


KELLY: He's well respected. He's actually very well respected on both sides of the aisle and has been up until this moment when suddenly now he's no longer respected by some.

Larry, great to see you. Twenty five thousand bucks, it's not worth it. I don't know how -- I'm sure you have a bigger advance than that for his book. Anyway, "Worthy Fights" I think it's called.

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