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Panetta at Gridiron Dinner recalls offer from Chicago congressman he could not refuse

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WASHINGTON--Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recalled a former Chicago congressman--Rep. Frank Annunzio--making him an offer he could not refuse during a humorous speech Saturday at the Gridiron Club and Foundation annual dinner.

Panetta zinged GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney in his remarks: "Much like Mitt Romney, I used to be a moderate Republican. You can find them in the Smithsonian. "

Panetta was a keynoter, standing in for President Barack Obama who was in the Republic of Korea for a nuclear security summit. (click HERE for report on Obama's Gridiron video, where he takes a poke at former GOP White House hopeful Rick Perry.)

Panetta is a former House member from California who served as a chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton and as CIA chief for Obama before moving over to Defense.

Poking fun at the number of older members of the Gridiron, Panetta said, "this is our nations largest collection of the veterans of the Spanish American War. When I say remember the Maine, a lot of you really do."

He has been around so long, Panetta said, that he remembers when "people used to vote for you because of earmarks...and when Newt Gingrich's only concern about space was where was his seat going to be on Air Force One."

When he was first elected to Congress, Panetta recalled a conversation he had on the House floor with Annunzio, who represented a North Side Chicago district.

Annunzio came up to him and said, "Panetta, that Italian."

"I said, 'yes it is."'

"You are going to be a member of the Italian caucus," Annunzio declared.

"I said of course I would. I was not going to say no to an Italian from Chicago."

"He said, 'Great. We don't do much on issues but we eat good."'

Panetta said he was proud to be an Italian-American secretary of defense.

"I am the only guy who has got the heritage to be able to sit at a table, look my enemies in the eye and say, 'I am going to make you an offer you can't refuse.'

As Clinton chief of staff he reminded the audience that he fired one-time Clinton pollster Dick Morris "because he put his foot into somebody else's mouth," recalling a toe-sucking incident with a prostitute.

As CIA director, Panetta said his "proudest moment" was the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

The U.S. found out about him from "tapping Rupert Murdoch's phone," Panetta joked.

Then Panetta talked about a drone that "reportedly crash landed after the operator lost the signal."

"I now have directed that we switch all drones from AT&T to Verizon."

Turning to GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, Panetta noted they were both Catholics.

"He is running as the Opus Dei candidate. For me, I can't imagine him as the Secretary of Defense. He is already waging a Trojan War. I'm sorry, he is waging a war on Trojans."

Panetta closed with another quip: If there is one thing I regret about the evening, it is "that none of you had the proper clearance to really hear my jokes."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 25, 2012 6:46 AM.

Obama in Gridiron video takes a gentle poke at Rick Perry was the previous entry in this blog.

Rick Perry a hit at Gridiron Dinner: How much he really likes Mitt Romney UPDATED is the next entry in this blog.

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