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 CANCELS FLORIDA TRIP
Congress Heads Back to Work to End Shutdown
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."

Source:
CLOTURE FAILS
Government Shutdown Begins, as Senate Balks at Stopgap
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."

Source:
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN SUSPICIOUS CHECKS FLAGGED
Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
3 days ago
THE LATEST
PRO-TRUMP SPENDING COULD VIOLATE FECA
FBI Investigating Potential Russian Donations to NRA
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.

Source:
DISCLOSURES MORE THAN DOUBLED
Mueller Investigation Leads to Hundreds of New FARA Filings
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Hundreds of new and supplemental FARA filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms" have been submitted "since Special Counsel Mueller charged two Trump aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The number of first-time filings ... rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners."

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