Thursday, October 27, 2005

What It's Like for the White House; Under seige

What of the rest of Team Bush? Karen Hughes is at the State Department, as is Condi Rice. Al Gonzalez has decamped for Justice, and fellow Austinite Margaret Spellings is at the Department of Education. Harriet Miers is fighting a losing battle to avoid becoming a permanent punch line. Ari Fleischer is selling books and dispensing sage advice to corporations. And Mary Matalin is busy raising her girls and rallying the troops from the outside.

The exodus and incapacity were inevitable; replacing Bush's stand-up guys and gals with suck-ups and sycophants was not. After he was re-elected, with the clouds of scandal still all `round, Bill Clinton lured John Podesta back to the White House. Podesta, who is as tough as a bar of iron, became deputy chief of staff, and then chief of staff. He was indispensable in maintaining the focus of both the President and his staff. When Abner Mikva left, Clinton recruited a new White House counsel, Charles Ruff, who was strong and steady, and put together the most impressive team of lawyers ever to grace the West Wing. When Mike McCurry stepped down, he was replaced by bulldog Joe Lockhart. Clinton also promoted Rahm Emanuel and Doug Sosnik, veteran campaigners, and convinced me to leave my beloved Austin to become Counselor to the President. Not because I was possessed of some special wisdom or insight, but because I knew him well and was not afraid to give him bad news.

Mr. Bush would do well to augment his current staff, a C-Team if ever there was one, with some stronger characters. But to read the Bush-Miers correspondence is to gain a disturbing insight into Mr. Bush's personality: he likes having his ass kissed. Ms. Miers' cards and letters to the then-Governor of Texas belong in the Brown-Nosers Hall of Fame. You can be sure the younger and less experienced Bush White House aides are even more obsequious. The last thing this President wants is the first thing he needs: someone to slap his spoiled, pampered, trust-funded, plutocratic, never-worked-a-day-in-his-life cheek and make him face the reality of his foul-ups.

And so they wait. And they sniff the royal throne. They tell the Beloved Leader he's the victim of a partisan plot (although how the Bush CIA, which referred the Plame case for prosecution, became ground zero of Democratic liberalism escapes me). They assure him all is well. But all is not well. People are looking over their shoulders. The smart ones have stopped taking notes in meetings. The very smart ones have stopped using email for all but the most pedestrian communications. And the smartest ones have already obtained outside counsel.

When a White House is under siege, no one wants to talk to anyone. Literally, anything you say can and will be used against you. When you're in a meeting and you see one of your colleagues taking notes, you start to wonder how long it will be before you're interrogated based on her notes. Maybe she's doodling. Or maybe she's digging your grave. The mind tries to focus on the task at hand, but the grand jury is never far from your thoughts.

Compared to these folks, I had it easy. I'd never met Monica Lewinsky, had no knowledge of the affair, which took place when I was living in Austin, and I knew that neither I nor any of my colleagues were in Ken Starr's perverse crosshairs. The Fitzgerald investigation is very different. It's not about the President's extracurricular activities. It's about the essence of how the White House works - and the suggestion that this White House has become deeply corrupt.

If the waiting is as painful for the Bushies as I suspect it is, it's only because they know how terrible the toll will be when the truth comes out.

Paul, it began as corrupt. That you still do not recognize that makes me not only question your judgment, given what we know now, but it also makes me wonder if you are not forgiving some kinds of crimes while beating another to death...

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