Gates to White House: ‘Put Their Damn Pencils Down’

The former Defense secretary has blunt advice for the White House on how to prevent leaks.

Robert Gates answers questions from the media during a press briefing September 23, 2010 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney
Jan. 17, 2014, 5:24 a.m.

 Former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates gave some simple ad­vice Thursday for how the ad­min­is­tra­tion can pre­vent leaks: “Tell every­one to put their damn pen­cils down.”

The com­ment about ad­min­is­tra­tion meet­ings came dur­ing a wide-ran­ging in­ter­view Thursday night at a Politico event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — the latest stop of his me­dia tour to pro­mote Duty, his new book about his time as sec­ret­ary for Pres­id­ent George W. Bush and Pres­id­ent Obama. The book cri­ti­cizes — and has been cri­ti­cized by — a spec­trum of top polit­ic­al of­fi­cials.

Chief among those cri­ti­cism is that Gates should have waited un­til after Obama was out of of­fice to pub­lish the book, but Gates de­fen­ded that de­cision, noth­ing that he hasn’t been “dis­loy­al” to the pres­id­ent.

“The real­ity is, if you talk with any­body in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, you’ll find I was as open in ex­press­ing my con­cerns dir­ectly, face to face, with the pres­id­ent. …What I didn’t do was be dis­loy­al to the pres­id­ent by tak­ing those con­cerns pub­lic, or leak­ing,” the former ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said.

He ad­ded that the Pentagon ap­proved the book, adding “none of this is new news, so I don’t think I’ve re­vealed any­thing that wasn’t already com­mon know­ledge.”

He said, when asked about Sen. Harry Re­id’s as­ser­tion that he is out to “make a buck,” that he will donate a “sig­ni­fic­ant” por­tion of the money brought in, in­clud­ing to or­gan­iz­a­tions that sup­port mil­it­ary mem­bers and vet­er­ans.

“It’s com­mon prac­tice on the Hill to vote on bills you haven’t read, and it’s per­fectly clear that Sen­at­or Re­id has not read the book,” Gates said, in a sharp re­sponse to the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s com­ments.

But Gates’s as­ser­tion in the book that the pres­id­ent had ser­i­ous doubts about the mis­sion in Afgh­anistan has caught wide­spread at­ten­tion. He ac­know­ledged that it is “one of the few” policy areas where he cri­ti­cizes the pres­id­ent.

“It has been in his re­luct­ance — par­tic­u­larly for the troops — on why suc­cess in Afgh­anistan is im­port­ant; why their cause is just and noble; and why their sac­ri­fice is worth­while,” he said.

The former De­fense sec­ret­ary also touched on a hand­ful of cur­rent is­sues and past ex­per­i­ences:

On his biggest pet peeve about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion: “I think what bothered me the most is the at­tempt to mi­cro­man­age mil­it­ary af­fairs.”

On Bob Wood­ward, who was crit­ic­al of Gates’s book: “I ac­tu­ally would have really liked to re­cruit him for CIA, be­cause he has an ex­traordin­ary abil­ity to get oth­er­wise re­spons­ible adults to spill their guts to him.”

On Hil­lary Clin­ton, who Gates sidestepped ques­tions ask­ing if he would sup­port if she runs for pres­id­ent: “My po­s­i­tion — at this point and go­ing for­ward — is that I don’t think the Demo­crats are ac­tu­ally very in­ter­ested in hav­ing a Re­pub­lic­an han­di­cap­ping their 2016 race.”

On listen­ing to mem­bers of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion cri­ti­cize the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion: “[Every­one in a meet­ing] would just be trash­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. What a mess they had made of for­eign and na­tion­al se­cur­ity policy. What a lousy team they had and everything. [Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Mi­chael] Mul­len and I would just sit there and look at each oth­er, ‘Don’t they real­ize we were in­teg­ral mem­bers of that team. What are we in­vis­ible?’”

On mil­it­ary sexu­al as­sault: “It’s both a leg­al is­sue, but it is also a lead­er­ship is­sue. …If they find people that are neg­at­ive in this”¦ they need to be sacked. Be­cause there is noth­ing in­side a hier­arch­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion that gets people’s at­ten­tion like fir­ing a big shot.”

On North Korea: “We’re now on our third gen­er­a­tion of Kims, and frankly I think that with each gen­er­a­tion we have been swim­ming in a shal­low­er and shal­low­er part of the gene pool.”

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP’S THREAT REJECTED BY CONGRESS
House Republicans Pour Cold Water On 35 Percent Tariff
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage Sunday morning, promising a 35 percent tariff on goods imported by businesses that leave America. Not so fast, say Republican leaders in Congress. "I don’t want to get into some kind of trade war," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a comment later reiterated by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who instead called for overhaul of corporate taxes instead of a punitive tax.

Source:
DISCUSSED CLIMATE CHANGE
Al Gore Meets with Ivanka and Donald Trump
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Former Vice President Al Gore found himself in a room with Donald Trump Monday just after meeting with Trump's daughter, Ivanka. Gore discussed the topic of climate change with both Trumps and called his discussion with Donald Trump "extremely interesting." It remains to be seen if Donald Trump will deal with the topic of climate change during his presidency.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
TRUMP TOWER MEETING
Mayor Bowser to Sit Down with Trump
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is making the pilgrimage to Trump Tower tomorrow, where she and Chief of Staff John Falchiccio and Senior Adviser Beverly Perry will meet with President-elect Donald Trump. In a statement, she said she'd be discussing "DC’s growth and common areas of interest."

Source:
IT’S OFFICIAL
Trump to Nominate Carson to Lead HUD
17 hours ago
THE LATEST

As has been rumored for a week, Donald Trump will nominate Ben Carson, his former rival, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In a statement, Trump said, "We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login