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
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 »
TO DEMAND VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT MADURO STEP DOWN
Pence Traveling to Colombia
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Vice President Mike Pence will go to Colombia on Monday to speak with the Colombian president and regional leaders about the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela and rally the international community behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó." Pence "will deliver remarks to the 14 nations that are part of the 'Lima Group' in Bogota," and will meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque.

Source:
LIKELY TO FACE COMPETITION IN REPUBLICAN PRIMARY
Rep. Bradley Byrne Announces Bid Against Sen. Doug Jones
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne became the first official Republican entrant into the 2020 U.S. Senate race announcing his intention to run in a race that could become one of the most expensive political contests in Alabama history. Byrne, a three-term congressman from Fairhope, said he anticipates the fundraising during the lengthy 2020 campaign to eclipse the 2017 special Senate election, in which an estimated $50 million was spent during the contest. Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore in that election, raised more than $24 million."

Source:
TARGETS INCLUDED NANCY PELOSI
Coast Guard Lt. Planned Large-scale Terrorist Attack
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a widespread domestic terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists...Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.”

Source:
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
6 days ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

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