Why Are Obama's Cabinet Choices Leaking Out?
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Another day, another big name for Barack Obama's Cabinet - or at least another rumor. The leak du jour suggests that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will be nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services. That has been reported by virtually every national news organization, even though the transition team for President-elect Obama refuses to confirm it.
It was a similar situation for the leak of Eric Holder's name, and for some of the news about the consideration of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. Well, joining us to talk about how this news has been unfolding is NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. And Ron, how did we learn that Tom Daschle was going to get this job when the Obama camp won't say if it's true or not?
RON ELVING: Two of our reporters, Robert: Don Gonyea, who has been covering the Obama campaign, was able to confirm it today, and also David Welna, the reporter we just heard from a moment ago, was able to confirm it in the Senate.
SIEGEL: Well, there was a lot of talk all year about what a tight ship Obama kept throughout the campaign. Is he losing his grip, or has his transition team let him down in some way?
ELVING: I don't think either is the case. I think they're just playing in a little larger arena now than they were. Even in presidential politics, the campaign arena is not as large as the one they're entering at this point. And the vetting process involves more people than even the best political control freaks in the world - and I think we may be talking about the discipline champs here - even they can control.
SIEGEL: Is there actually any usefulness in leaking news of these nominations, whoever's involved, beyond the use to the media and to the public?
ELVING: I think that the campaign, or let's say now the transition team, the same group of people, in either event, the camp, does have some utility in being able to float names at times and then find out what the problems are going to be. And it was, in fact, the way that they talked to senators about Eric Holder that led to that particular name coming out. And in Hillary Clinton's case, they had her come to Chicago, and it was reported on Thursday night that her entourage, her security team, actually crossed some of the vehicles of Obama's at one point, and that was quite noticeable to people. And they began to scramble to find out who else had that much security. So, they can actually learn some things about reaction to some of these things by letting them become a little bit public.
SIEGEL: But, does it seem plausible to you that any of these leaks, let's say, the leak about Hillary Clinton, that could be a trial balloon? I mean, it would be awfully difficult at this point to suggest we actually didn't offer the secretary of state's job to Senator Clinton.
ELVING: It's an awkward pas de deux no matter how it unfolds. But in this particular case, particularly because they wanted to be talking to Bill Clinton about some of his associations overseas, some of his sources of income, some of the people who have been donors to his foundation, those are all going to be delicate negotiations under any circumstances. But the only way they're going to be able to go forward is if they talk to the Clinton people. And then the Clinton people, of course, talked because they wanted it known in the media that they were under this kind of consideration, and that Bill Clinton was willing to play ball with the Obama team.
SIEGEL: But if the negotiations you're talking about are going on in the media, then they can't be controlled to the degree that the Obama campaign, before the election, got accustomed to controlling things.
ELVING: And that's exactly the difficulty, that's exactly the contradiction that they're caught up in this point. So it isn't as though they're losing it or as though they're less competent than they were as campaigners. It's that they're playing a different ball game.
SIEGEL: And your read here is that these leaks are things that are happening to them. They are not necessarily making them happen.
ELVING: They are doing what they must do. They're trying to strike a balance between secrecy, which has its purposes, and due diligence, which is absolutely necessary. They need to talk to people about people before they appoint those people to these big jobs.
SIEGEL: But, Ron, one inference we can draw from this is, looking back to the year of the Obama campaign, or a little bit more than a year, I guess, that it really was a very small group that had access to important information.
ELVING: It was a combat team. It was a group of people with total loyalty to each other and total trust in each other. Now, they have to reach out, in some cases, to people who used to be their rivals, they used to be their political enemies, and bring them into their confidence in order to pursue these larger political goals that I mentioned. And that's where the absolute control of information secrecy breaks down.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: It's NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.
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