POLITICS
02/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Feinstein On Panetta: Spoken To Obama, Biden

A day after the news of Leon Panetta's pending nomination to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency caused a stir among Democrats, it appears that the key players in his confirmation process are coming around.

On Monday Sen. Diane Feinstein, the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement on the Panetta news that was remarkable both in its tone and implication. She had not been forewarned about the appointment, her office said, and she had reservations about the former White House chief of staff's qualifications for the post.

On Tuesday, however, the California Democrat gradually walked the statement back.

"I have been contacted by both President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, and they have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA Director," a new statement from her office read. "I look forward to speaking with Mr. Panetta about the critical issues facing the intelligence community and his plans to address them."

The change in tone came as other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee offered support -- however premature -- for Panetta's candidacy. Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, hinted strongly that the Florida Democrat approved of the pick. He told the Huffington Post: "As Sen. Nelson views him: he can handle any top job in the government and he knows Washington inside and out."

Meanwhile, one of the Senate's foremost progressives, Russ Feingold, released a similarly support statement of his own.

"Leon Panetta has a long and distinguished career in public service and there are few people of whom I have a higher opinion," he said in a statement.

Feingold is widely regarded as a leading opponent of torture, extraordinary rendition and secret detention. Panetta, said Feingold, "has been a strong voice opposing the interrogation practices authorized by the Bush Administration and he is well-equipped to restore our national security, which has been undermined by the current administration's policies."

Feingold added, though, that he would continue to vet Panetta. "I look forward to closely examining his record, hearing his plans for protecting our nation against al Qaeda and other threats, and learning how he will help restore the rule of law after years of lawlessness that have undermined our national security," he said.

But the chances of the former Clinton hand succumbing to a divided Democratic process seemed far less likely as the day wore on.

An high-ranking Democratic aide told the Huffington Post that he was surprised that the Obama team "failed to reach out to key intelligence committee members" prior to choosing Panetta. Because of this, he said "Panetta may have a bit of a bumpy confirmation." But he added that at the end of the day -- with the president and Congress representing the same party and with Obama granted a certain amount of leeway to appoint his own intelligence team -- "confirmation is likely."