From NBC's July 27 coverage of the Democratic National Convention:
LEON PANETTA: Never in my lifetime did I anticipate that a candidate who's running for president would ask an adversary to conduct espionage and get involved in political election in this country. I just thought it was irresponsible and, in many ways outrageous.
CHUCK TOOD (CO-HOST): Mr. Secretary, how much of a threat is Russia? And I ask this because four years ago Mitt Romney said it was the number one geopolitical threat to the United States. The Obama administration pushed back almost laughing at him now, it doesn't seem like a laughing matter today. How would you assess the threat of Russia to the United States?
PANETTA: You know, there is a lot of flash points in the world: terrorism, ISIS, North Korea, dealing with China. But Russia, I think, is one of those flash points because I think they are involved in a whole new chapter of the Cold War. Particularly, with Putin who has been very aggressive in the Crimea, in Syria, and there is concern about his aggressiveness in other areas. So I think Russia is up there as one of the threats we have to worry about.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (CO-HOST): Mr. Secretary, to play devil's advocate, there will probably be some people who are watching this and saying, “maybe he was just joking. Maybe it was just to turn a phrase.” What do you think of that? Could it be just kind of loose talk?
PANETTA: You know, I know that there are a lot of people that kind of excuse these kind of crazy remarks that he makes from time to time. But I think people have to understand that when he speaks as a candidate, he sends messages to the rest of the world. When I go abroad, the countries abroad are worried about what he's saying, whether it's abandoning NATO, or abandoning our alliances, or talking about torture, or asking that nuclear weapons be distributed around the world. They have consequences. When you're commander in chief and you talk, there are consequences. When you're a candidate and say the things he's saying, there are consequences.
LESTER HOLT (CO-HOST): But will it matter? He has said a number of things that might have sunk other politicians. Does it matter in this tight race where there is such strong division in this country?
PANETTA: You know, I think this kind of stuff might have worked in a Republican primary where he was up against 17 other candidates. I think when he's in a general election against one other candidate, and that's Hillary Clinton, I don't think it's going to work.