The choice of Leon Panetta to be America’s top spook opened the door for my first cat blog. Thank you, President-elect Barack Obama for making this all possible.
I met Panetta on July 16, 1994, just two days before he became chief of staff for President Clinton, a job he kept through 1997. He was in Las Vegas to help raise money for Rep. Jim Bilbray and in 1994 the topic du jour was the threat of federal taxes on gaming profits.
He assured the gaming industry that the Clinton industry had no interest in increasing gaming taxes. He was 56 at the time and I wrote that Panetta “demonstrated his reputation for candor when he talked about problems in the White House.”
He said a lot had been accomplished in the first 18 months of the administration. “There is no question there were times when the White House staff did not live up to the highest standards — of either the president or certainly myself — in the way they operated.”
He was referring to a White House aide who used a presidential helicopter for golfing escapades.
(This was pre-Monica Lewinsky.)
I had a few minutes alone with him to flesh out some of the gaming details, and as the interview was wrapping up, joked with him about whether he’d met Socks, the Clinton’s cat. Showing some discretion, I didn’t put my question or his answer in the news story.
Not long afterward, I received a manila envelope from the White House.
It contained the photo above, which for years held a place of honor on my desk in the middle of the Review-Journal newsroom. There was no note, but clearly Leon Panetta had arranged for it to be sent to me.
The story tells me three things about him:
—He follows through.
He should be just right to head the Central Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration.
Sadly, a check on Socks came up with news stories from mid-December saying the 19-year-old former first cat is gravely ill with terminal cancer.