Paul Begala in a guest post at the TPM Cafe recalls what it’s like to be in a White House under seige.
Tom Petty was wrong. The waiting is not the hardest part.
Sure, all of what Eric Alterman dubbed “the punditocracy” has a severe case of indictus interruptus, but for President Bush and his White House staff, the worst is yet to come. To be sure, waiting on a decision to indict is an exquisite form of torture. But what lies ahead is worse. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does choose to indict one or more senior Bush White House officials, they will be the first top White House aides to be indicted in a decade and a half.
This is when a White House staffer earns his pay. The pressure of a federal criminal investigation – especially one in the media spotlight – is bone-crushing. My guess is that the strain is taking a gruesome toll. Already we hear rumors of President Bush exploding at his aides, at the President blaming Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and anyone else in sight for his woes.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps David Brooks should give Paul a call.