WASHINGTON – George Tenet's (search) surprise resignation Thursday inspired a range of reaction from lawmakers and experts, most of whom agreed the director of central intelligence was a strong leader who served over a flawed operation.
In announcing Tenet's resignation, which was tendered to President Bush on Wednesday night, the president voiced strong support for the man who had served as head of the CIA for seven years.
"I told him I'm sorry he's leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people," Bush said Thursday before leaving on a four-day trip to Europe.
"I have consistently been impressed by his patriotism, his leadership, and his commitment to protecting the American people," said FBI Director Robert Mueller after learning the news. "I know he has earned the respect of leaders around the world. He has certainly earned mine."
Tenet is not a partisan figure. He was appointed by President Clinton in 1997, received unanimous confirmation by the Senate, and was retained when Bush took office in 2001.
But his service has been marked by missteps and attendant scrutiny, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were not borne out. Some prominent Democrats, including former Vice President Al Gore, have called for his resignation. But lawmakers and other former government officials refrained Thursday from expressing harsh words for Tenet.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called Tenet "an honorable and decent man who has served his country well in difficult times, and no one should make him a fall guy for anything."
"I think that running the CIA has got to be one of the toughest jobs in town these days," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "Tenet's been around for a long time. I thank him for serving his country and we look forward to finding out more about his reasons in the future."
Others acknowledged that Tenet's resignation could create a fresh start for a beleagured agency.
"For the intelligence community, this should be seen as an opportunity to bring in new leadership and see if there are some things to be done differently. I hope the president, President Bush, will take advantage of the opportunity to redirect the CIA and intelligence community in some ways that will improve their operations," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
"I appreciate his service to our country, but too many things have happened in the last couple of years," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who added that Tenet's resignation could lead to "a needed fresh start."
In citing the errors faced in the intelligence community, some analysts have harkened back to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Last month, the panel issued a statement saying the CIA had failed to appreciate the threat posed by Al Qaeda before the terrorist hijackings. Several lawmakers had said afterward that perhaps another chief would be the best person to oversee a multi-year restructuring of the agency.
But some of those same lawmakers said Tenet's resignation should not be seen as the end of the line in terms of repercussions against a Bush administration that has erred on a number of critical issues.
"I do not believe that the resignation of George Tenet should be the only response to those failures," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Pelosi added that Tenet had made "significant contributions to the work of the intelligence community."
"I have known George Tenet for many years, and I wish him the very best. He has worked extremely hard on behalf of our nation, and we are grateful for his effort," said Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
"There is no question, however, that there have been significant intelligence failures, and the administration has to accept responsibility for those failures," Kerry said, adding that perhaps now is the time to create a post of "director of national intelligence" who can be responsible for oversight of the entire intelligence community.
Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., called Tenet's resignation "overdue." He proposed that Rep. Porter Goss (search), R-Fla., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former CIA operative who is retiring from the House this year, replace Tenet. "I think he'd be a perfect fit and one who could easily be confirmed by the Senate.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., concurred. "Porter Goss is a class act ... I think it's a no-brainer."
Duane Clarridge, former CIA counter-terror chief, said he was surprised at Tenet's departure, but added that it would not affect counter-terrorism activities.
"George Tenet is not a risk taker," Clarridge said, adding that a risk-averse philosophy had filtered down through the ranks at the CIA. "You need to have a spy organization that takes risks, otherwise you don't need one, you have a State Department."
Tenet will remain at his post until mid-July. Bush said that Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, will temporarily lead the country's top spy agency until a permanent successor is found.
Fox News' Jim Mills and Catherine Loper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.