Leon Panetta: Trump's one-on-one meeting with Comey a "serious breach"

For insight into James Comey's testimony, Scott Pelley spoke to Leon Panetta on the "CBS Evening News." 

Panetta was secretary of defense and CIA director under President Barack Obama, and he served as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.


Scott Pelley: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Comey made a lot today of the fact that the president ordered everyone out of the room before he talked to Mr. Comey about the investigation into Michael Flynn. Help us understand what that means.

Sec. Leon Panetta: Well that was a serious breach in the relationship between the president and the director of the FBI. It was at that point that somebody in the room should have made clear that the president ought not to be alone with the director of the FBI and obviously no one did and I think that was a serious lapse in terms of good discipline at the White House.

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Leon Panetta

CBS News

Pelley: Well why shouldn't the president be alone with the FBI director?

Panetta: Well the reality is that the director of the FBI is conducting investigations into national security issues and that the president should not be viewed as trying to in any way influence those kinds of investigations. And so for that reason, at least the approach in the past with other presidents, has been to make very sure that the president does not have that kind of one-on-one discussion with the director of the FBI, particularly when the director is conducting a very sensitive investigation. That just is not done.

Pelley: Now the question overhanging this testimony today was whether the president had attempted to end the Flynn investigation by telling Mr. Comey that he "hoped he could see his way clear to dropping the investigation." What did you see in the testimony today that related to the charge of obstruction of justice?

Panetta: Well you know there seems to have been a focus on the issue of whether or not the president was a focus of the investigation in the past under Director Comey. And the reality is that as a result of Director Comey's testimony today, there's not much question that the president will be a focus of an investigation by the special counsel as to whether or not there was obstruction of justice. The testimony by Director Comey raised, at least a pattern in the meetings and discussions with the director, that raises the issue of whether or not he was trying to influence or obstruct that investigation. That will be the subject, I think, of the special counsel's investigation.

Pelley: Leon Panetta of the Panetta Institute, and former secretary of defense, thanks for being with us.

Panetta: Thank you.