Former Defense Secretary Panetta: Lack of transition 'sends terrible message' to US allies, adversaries

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Joe Biden is beginning the transition as President-elect, except the incumbent president refuses to concede and the administration is not going along with starting that transition.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump fired his Secretary of Defense via social media Monday, in the start of what could be a broader post-election purge.

An election that was anything but normal moves into a new phase: the counting of the rest of the votes. Biden is beginning to take the reins of power, but President Trump clings to legal challenges and is insisting he really won.

"It’s a regrettable experience to have America after an election in which we set record numbers of Americans who came out to vote, the largest number in 100 years if not in our history, and a smooth vote counting process that has not indicated any element of fraud," said Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense and Director of Central Intelligence under President Barack Obama. "I think it’s over. I think the election’s over."

Panetta, who was also White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, told KCBS Radio’s "The State Of California" late Monday that "it’s time to have a peaceful transition so that we can deal with the crises that this country is facing."

Former Secretary of Defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta discuss his new book, 'Worthy Fights,' during an event in the Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University October 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Former Secretary of Defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta discuss his new book, 'Worthy Fights,' during an event in the Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University October 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Meanwhile, some pillars of the Republican establishment are siding with the president, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham.

"We’re facing a lot of problems in this country," Panetta said. "It’s difficult under normal circumstances to work your way through a transition that includes all of the information you need on the departments and agencies and policies in order to be able to hit the ground running."

Panetta expects continued resistance from the Trump administration in moving forward with a transition to President-elect Biden’s administration will "set back" efforts for a smooth hand off and ultimately hurt the American people. He pointed to foreign affairs as a spot where the transition matters, among others.

President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier Monday.

"It’s probably the beginning of a series of tweets and upheavals and changes in an election purge," Panetta speculated. "I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes after the director of the CIA and the head of the FBI after this. This huge problem here is that it creates tremendous uncertainty at the Pentagon at a time when they’re dealing with some serious problems."

The COVID-19 pandemic is of particular concern, Panetta added.

The tumult, however, will be noticed around the globe.

"It sends a terrible message to both our adversaries and frankly our allies that they don’t know what the hell is happening in the United States of America and whether or not there really will be a peaceful transition or whether we’re going to go through a greater chaos here in this country," Panetta said.

Heads of state in many counties, including allies Canada and England, have congratulated President-elect Biden on his projected victory. Rivals like China and Russia have yet to publicly acknowledge Biden’s win over Trump.