A non-story, at least for now

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Leon Panetta, President Obama’s nominee for CIA director, has earned more than $700,000 in speaking and consulting fees since the beginning of 2008. The Journal says that some of the payments came from “troubled financial firms” and from “a firm that invests in contractors for federal national security agencies.” The “troubled financial firms” are Merrill Lynch and Wachovia, before whose big-shots Panetta made speeches. The “firm that invests in contractors for national security agencies” is Carlyle Group, a private equity firm before whom Panetta also spoke.

Without more, this is a non-story. There is nothing wrong with giving a speech for a fee to a company that turns out to be in financial trouble. Indeed, there would be nothing wrong with speaking for a fee to a company known to be in trouble. Similarly, Panetta did not act improperly when he spoke for a fee to a private equity firm that owns a majority stake in a consulting firm that works with the CIA. Panetta was not the nominee for CIA director at the time, nor (so far as appears) did he have any reason to believe he would receive that nomination.

If this story gains traction, then it really will be the case that “Washington mores” have changed. But, without more, it won’t gain traction, nor should it.

JOHN adds: I totally agree. The fact that Panetta made some money in the private sector is not a news story, let alone a scandal. Let’s not let legitimate concerns over tax evasion and influence peddling turn into a witch-hunt against anyone who makes any money.

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