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Former Defense Secretary On Pro-Trump Mob's Insurrection


Let's bring in Leon Panetta now. He has spent many hours at the U.S. Capitol as a former congressman from California. He also served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, as director of the CIA and as defense secretary for President Barack Obama. He's on the line now.

Secretary Panetta, hey there.

LEON PANETTA: How are you?

KELLY: Well, I think we've all had better days. How are you doing?

PANETTA: This is - in the 50 years - over 50 years of public life that I've had, this is, without question, the most disturbing day in my life to see what has happened at the capital of the United States. I think it's a sad day for our democracy. And it's a sad day for our country.

KELLY: You know, reeling off all your past titles just a moment ago drove home to me that you've served in Washington from just about every vantage point a person could have. What has shocked you most as you have witnessed events unfolding today?

PANETTA: Well, there were, you know, a number of thoughts that crossed my mind. But I think first and foremost was just the fact that we - I think we all knew that something like this might happen, that there were these protesters who had come to Washington, that we had a president who was inciting the protesters and actually went there this morning to incite them as well. And that, as a result of knowing that this could happen, it just strikes me as incredulous that steps were not taken to better secure the capital of the United States and make sure that the business of the country could be conducted without having a riot take place.

KELLY: How much responsibility, in your view, does President Trump bear for this moment? How much responsibility do the members of his staff - the members of Congress who have supported him - how much responsibility do they bear?

PANETTA: Well, I'm afraid there's probably a lot of responsibility to go around, obviously beginning with the president and his attitude about the fact that, somehow, he won the election when that simply is not the case and continuing to talk about a rigged election and continuing to go against our Constitution. And obviously, those who support that position obviously have contributed as well to the acts that ultimately took place at the Capitol today. And those who basically supported the president's position, I think have also contributed to what we've seen take place.

I also believe, frankly, that those responsible for securing the Capitol and making sure that this did not happen also bear some responsibility because it strikes me that whatever precautions they took were totally inadequate to deal with the protesters and with those who were intent on going into the Capitol. So there's a lot of responsibility to go around.

Number one, though, I think it's absolutely essential to restore order to the Capitol, to make sure that the Capitol is cleared. And number two, to allow both the House and the Senate to get back to the business of the country, which is to count the electoral votes and announce a new president for the United States.

KELLY: Well, if you were back in government picking up your phone, who would be the first person you would call? What are the immediate steps that need to be taken to restore order?

PANETTA: Well, unfortunately, the president is AWOL from his responsibilities. Normally, under any other circumstances, the president would be the one to take charge of restoring order. But that's not going to happen with this president. So it really does require the leadership of the Congress, both Republican and Democrat, to make clear that the Capitol will be secured, that the protesters will be ejected or arrested and that a perimeter will be established around the Capitol that will provide security for the future in terms of the Congress and what needs to be done. And then in addition to that, make sure that both the House and the Senate convene as soon as possible in order to complete the business of the country.

KELLY: Well, again, looking forward and again talking about leadership - as you know, two weeks from today, Joe Biden is supposed to be taking the oath of office on the west side of the Capitol, which is where, in fact, we saw protesters climbing on part of the platform that had been erected for January 20. How does the country - how does incoming President Joe Biden - how do they move past this moment? Can they move past this moment?

PANETTA: Well, I believe we can. I believe our country can move past this moment. And I believe, certainly, that President Biden will be able to move past this moment as well. But it also means that we can't take anything for granted. I think the scenes we saw today of those protesters, you know, going through the Capitol, these are scenes that are going to be burned into our mind for the future and could very well create even additional protests in the future as a result.

So I really do think it is absolutely incumbent to make sure that we provide sufficient security for the inauguration, that we provide sufficient security for the Capitol to make sure that it is protected and that we not take anything for granted. Our democracy is fragile. And for that reason, it's extremely important that we make sure that what happened today is never again repeated in history.

KELLY: Secretary Panetta, thank you.

PANETTA: You're welcome.

KELLY: We have been talking through the momentous events of today with Leon Panetta, former congressman, defense secretary and White House chief of staff.

(SOUNDBITE OF INITIUM'S "PRIMUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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