"And that’s exactly what he did. When he went into the Ukraine, when he recaptured ... the Crimea, which belongs to the Ukraine ... what he did in Syria, and obviously what he has done in attacking our election process, I think Putin had the sense that he could do that and get away with it.
"The kind of turmoil we are going through as a result of what the Russians did is the kind of turmoil that even a military attack in some ways could not produce in our country. So I consider this a full-fledged type attack on our country and on our security. And it's for that reason that I think it really does rise to the point of having a strong independent commission look at exactly what happened here. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a matter of serious national security. And that's the way everyone should look at it."
On the Controversial Steele Dossier, Called 'Fake News' by the Trump Administration:
"There is no question in my mind that some of the things in that report at least seem to have some credibility.”
Asked if that credibility extends to the analysis that Trump is somehow in danger of being financially or personally blackmailed by Russian interests, Panetta responds that the report "raises legitimate questions.”
"That’s the question on everybody’s mind,” he says. “Who are we kidding? The reality is we have a president who, for whatever reason, does not want to reveal his tax documents. ... He’s gone out of his way to defend Russia. ... He’s met with the Russians. ... He’s tried to in some way influence the way this investigation has gone. ... Why is he doing that?”
On Watching His CIA Director Successor, John Brennan, Testify Before Congress:
"There were a lot of thoughts that went through my mind. As CIA director, the fundamental mission you have in that role is to protect our country.
"And when I listened to John Brennan, I had this sense that what they [the CIA] were finding was this adversary was conducting cyberattacks on our country, to try to destabilize our election process. ... That they were aware of that, and more importantly they were aware of the fact that Russians were talking to individuals in the Trump campaign."
On Republican Congressional Members Focusing on the Leaking of Classified Information:
"If I had a greater sense that they were truly committed to that investigation, then I think both Republicans and Democrats can then find the time to deal with leaks. But their fundamental responsibility right now is to determine what did the Russians do to our country? Who did they collude with, if anybody? And how do we prevent that from happening in the future? That ought to be their fundamental goal.”
On Whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein Should Seek Another Term:
“Dianne is somebody who is very reputable, she’s experienced, she knows the issues and she’s shown tremendous leadership. I think the issue is for her to continue to make that fight. If not, a young person like Adam Schiff -- or others -- could also represent a fresh spirit.
“I do think this,” Panetta adds. “At some point, this country has got to bring new leadership both in the Congress, and in the country, to get us back to the business of governing. ... I really do believe our country can go in one of two directions. We can be an America in Renaissance. ... Or the other path is to be an America in decline. And today, we’re in an America in crisis after crisis.”