The "political knives were out" during defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing last week, current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview that will air Sunday morning.

"It's pretty obvious that the -- political knives were out for -- Chuck Hagel," Panetta said in an interview with NBC News's "Meet The Press."

Hagel faced withering criticism during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services  on Thursday. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the former Nebraska Republican senator on Friday, telling reporters he "did a fine job."

Panetta said that the question and answer session focused too heavily on past statements Hagel had made, and not enough on the current challenges confronting the Pentagon.

"What disappointed me is that -- you know, they -- they talked a lot about past quotes, but what about what a secretary of defense is confronting today? What about the war on -- in Afghanistan?" asked Panetta in an excerpt released Saturday evening by NBC News. "What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequestering, ... All of the issues that confront a secretary of defense, frankly, those were -- we just did not see enough time spent on discussing those issues."