One of the first, and most important, things I learned when I started covering Washington many years ago was that there was not one, but two Washington's. There was the elected Washington, and unelected Washington. One was temporary, the other permanent.
The next thing I learned was almost as important. It was that, if I wanted to make friends or useful alliances, not to waste my charms on elected officials, but rather to focus on the permanent government, federal employees. Because they were there for good. They didn't face voters ever two or four or six years. (One permanent senate staffer used to refer to US Senators as "rent-a-cars.")
I remember sitting over lunch with a grizzled old veteran lobbyist one day as he explained how things worked in DC.
"Say, for example, a freshly confirmed cabinet member arrives on the job for his or her first week," he said, taking another sip of a cold beer. "They learn very quickly that their permanent staff understands how every works, where everything is, who can get what done - none of which the political appointee knows. Over the next few weeks it's made clear ti the new boss that life in high office in DC comes in two flavors; hard or easy. Leave the daily doings to the permanent staff and the appointee is free to go off on junkets,make speeches around the country or world,and generally enjoy being a big shot.
But, should an appointee decide they intend to actually want to run the show, then suddenly they find everyone is just standing around waiting for them to make decisions on every little thing, and every big thing, and everything in between. Suddenly no one seems to know how to get things done, waiting for the appointee, who knows sh*t about anything, to tell them how to get it done. That's the hard variety."
And so I came learn it was so... ever so. Now don't get me wrong. I'm in no way dissing the army of federal employees who march to work every day in Washington and across the nation and across the globe, doing their jobs. Like employees in the private sector most of them want is to just be allowed to do their job with the minimum of nonsense and unnecessary management la-de-da. And when your boss is a political appointee, those concerns come in many ways private sector employees can't even imagine.
Anyway, I've been watching these three exploding "scandals," the Obama and his political appointees have gotten themselves into. And I have been watching the other side, the Republicans, stirring it for all it's worth. And, frankly, I have no sympathy for either.
On one side we have Obama who, from healthcare to Gitmo to damn-near everything else, wants to govern by words rather than deeds. His motto might well be; "Say it and they will come." If Gen. George Patton had waged war words like Obama wages governance, we'd all be wearing lederhosen.
Meanwhile permanent Washington, all those federal employees, have spent the the last four years being insulted by Tea Party Republicans, who blame everything, real and imagined, that goes wrong on the "out of control federal bureaucracy." So, should we be surprised now that a handful of government of those federal bureaucrats at an IRS office in the American heartland decided to get even?
While Congress pretends to be "shocked and amazed" that an acting IRS commissioner knew nothing about all that, I'm not. After all, this guy was temp to begin with. And he got the message early on about that whole deal of deciding whether he wanted "a hard time while in office, or an easy one." He chose the easy route and kept his nose out of agency business.
Now, to the Department of Justice... an agency that has been a rat's nest of internal unrest and intrigue since I started covering the place way back in the 1980s.
At the DOJ it's even worse than the IRS. At DOJ not only is there dissension between political appointees and permanent staff, but between political appointees and political appointees and permanent staff and permanent staff. The DOJ is nearly dysfunctional... has been for decades. I could write volumes on that subject alone. From Watergate to Iran/Contra to the S&L scandal, to the latest Wall Street heists, the DOJ has been the last to know and, when they found out, they did the minimum, or less. The DOJ can't even install a functional networked computer system that works, much less do fulfill it's constitutional obligations.
All that becomes more than a bit embarrassing for the political appointees at DOJ when it surfaces in the press. Which is why they are extra sensitive to the inquiring minds of the DC press corps. It's bad enough when the occasional reporter actually stumbles onto a hot story. But when an insider leaks to a reporter DOJ appointees act like Mafia Dons when someone breaks the oath of omerta; they put out a contract on the leaker. The leakers, in cases like this, can come from either of the two DC classes, permanent or appointed. Palace intrigue thrives within both communities, and on really good days, they find common ground, and all hell breaks loose.
So there you have the fertile compost pile from which the tapping of AP reporter's phones and emails sprang. That's how it happened, why it happened and how it became known it happened. The long knives are out, and there will be blood.
Finally we come to Benghazi. Talk about a mess waiting to happen. Talk about scandal ripe for prime time. A political appointee with a last name that inflames the right at it's mere mention; Clinton. A Secretary of State hankering to run for President the next time around; Hillary Clinton. A worldwide embassy structure staffed by permanent and appointees - embassies in hostile territories that have had their security staff budgets slashed by penny-pinching conservative elected officials. And finally the inevitable, and largely predictable, happened.
The elected officials circle their wagons, massaging public explanations so as to absolve themselves of any blame whatsoever, leaving lower level permanent staff to wonder who exactly is going to be the fall guys, and suspecting it will be them. So they start talking, filling in the blanks their appointed bosses left in those memos and talking points.